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09 March 2016

Raytheon Ready to Unveil Its AESA/GaN Radar

In an exclusive interview this March 8, US correspondent Marty Kauchak gained insights from Raytheon on its prototype Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA)/ Gallium Nitride (GaN) Radar to be showcased for the first time at the March 15-17 AUSA Global Force Symposium & Exposition in Huntsville, Alabama.

Raytheon’s recent technology thrusts to advance its GaN and AESA technology baselines have positioned the company to compete for the US Army’s funded requirement for a new Lower Tier Missile Defense Capability.

Raytheon and the US Government have made significant investments to mature GaN semiconductor technology – with the government-industry team starting to reap the rewards of its efforts. The company is on contract to use GaN technology in the US Navy’s Air Missile Defense Radar and Next Generation Jammer Electronic Warfare Program. The technology has also matured to the point where “it was time to look at GaN’s application for Patriot,” Doug Burgess, the AESA Patriot program manager, pointed out.

GaN offers important advantages when compared to legacy-era semiconductor materiel. Burgess explained, “You are consuming power coming into the radar and you want to turn that power into radar energy. The higher the efficiency, the more of that electric power that you are drawing from, you are turning into radar energy. It’s much more efficient than any previous semi-conductor technology.”

Specific efficiencies of Ga N radar semiconductors include: offering the ability to complete additional functions in the radar; lowering life cycle costs by using less fuel and power; and increasing reliability.

GaN semiconductors are estimated to be about 30-to-35% more efficient when compared to older semiconductors, based on the hosting weapon system.    

Raytheon manufactures its own GaN chips at its foundry in Massachusetts. As a US Defense Department manufacturing readiness level-8 foundry, “we can produce GaN chips for the program of record,” Burgess explained.    

During the last two years Raytheon has taken its GaN technology and coupled it with AESA, preparing a prototype radar for Patriot. “So now we have a new generation of Patriot radar called AESA/GaN and it has this latest technology in it. About two years ago we started investing in a prototype to demonstrate the technology is mature, and can be integrated into the existing radar infrastructure and evolved into any future system – either back-fitted into our existing worldwide customer base or evolved to meet potential customer competitions” Burgess added.

There are 13 Patriot customers on record around the globe. More than 220 Patriot Fire Units have been delivered to the military customer base.      

Raytheon has US DoD approval to export the basic GaN technology to all current Patriot customers and future Patriot customer Poland, which announced in April 2015 its intention to buy the weapon system.  

The prototype Patriot AESA/GaN radar is envisioned as a replacement for the current passive electronically scanned array.

Burgess pointed that while the legacy radar takes power from a power amp in the unit shelter, radiates it through its large array and “steers it” as it passes through its lens, with the AESA “we’re taking that one power amp and splitting it into thousands of little power amplifiers and putting that up into the array. We’re combining that power out in space so you get the same radar energy on any particular object or target, but you are producing it through thousands of much, much smaller power transmitters in the array. We are eliminating that one big power amp in the shelter and replacing it with many, many thousands of power amps in the array.”

The industry expert emphasized that with the migration to AESA technology, system reliability increases and operation and maintenance costs decrease. Additionally the evolving AESA technology baseline provides a path to a true 360-degree Patriot capability.

The Obama administration’s fiscal year 2017 budget request delivered to Congress this February contains funding for a new Army program – Lower Tier Missile Defense Capability. The Army budget document specifies a competitively selected GaN array antenna will be integrated into the baseline Patriot system.  Burgess concluded “the Army will be holding a competition for the next generation sensor and clearly this [the Raytheon AESA/GaN] is a solution that can be used.”      

Raytheon's prototype Active Electronically Scanned Array/Gallium Nitride Radar (above rendering), which will be showcased for the first time at the March 15-17 AUSA Global Force Symposium & Exposition in Huntsville, Alabama. (Photo: Raytheon)