Marines Eye G/ATOR System as Next-Generation Radar

By Yasmin Tadjdeh

After several years of development, a new ground-based multi-mission radar able to detect cruise missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles is nearly ready for low-rate initial production.

The AN/TPS-80 Ground/Air Task Oriented Radar (G/ATOR) system, built by Northrop Grumman, is set to replace five of the Marine Corps' single-mission radar systems, Robert Lee Bond, the service's program manager for G/ATOR said Dec. 4 during a demonstration at the Pentagon.

"Our purpose in being here is to be sure that … the Department of Defense leadership acknowledges that we've had a successful test run and it's time to enter low-rate production," said Bond.

G/ATOR will be able to detect aerial threats such as UAVs and cruise missiles, said Bond. The system is mobile and can be transported by various aircraft such as the C-130 Hercules and C-17 Globemaster.

The system recently completed developmental testing at Marine Air Control Squadron, in Yuma, Ariz. While there, Bond said the radar was able to pick out a number of aerial threats. Operators initially ran into "glitchy" software issues, but have since fixed them, he said.

"We took some time in our test program to work that out and make sure we had it right. A system that used to move towards a 'blue screen of death' type scenario after a few hours now runs for several days with no such problems," Bond said.

Once the system passes Milestone C, low-rate production of the radar will begin. Initially, the service is looking to procure up to eight systems per year. While sequestration could take a bite out of the numbers, Bond said that President Obama's 2014 budget proposal has enough funds to cover most of the production.

"The budget the president requested for '14 contains all the funds necessary to begin making the G/ATORS in annual quantities of anywhere from two to four to eight systems a year. The total requirement is 57 to equip every Marine unit that needs one ... in the next five to seven years," Bond said.

The radar will be useful in the Asia-Pacific region, said Marine Corps Maj. Michael S. Keane, an air defense officer.

Many potential future adversaries are investing in cruise missile technology, said Keane, and G/ATOR is able to detect those threats.

G/ATOR will replace radar systems that are 20 to 30 years old, Keane said. 

Bond said G/ATOR has been designed to interoperate with joint and allied command and control systems.

Northrop is expecting additional G/ATOR business from the Navy and Air Force, said Mike Meaney, director for ground based tactical radars at the company. Last month, Northrop was awarded a $6 million, 18-month Enterprise Air Surveillance Radar study contract by the Office of Naval Research to replace aging SPS-48 and SPS-49 air surveillance radars aboard some ships.

Meaney said that integrating the radar onto Navy vessels will present new obstacles. "We're looking at what changes do I make to make it fit on a ship," said Meaney. "When I put it on a ship, I have a different environment [than with the Marines], and in many ways it's less stressing and in some ways it's more stressing."

Northrop also plans to put in a proposal for the Air Force's Three Dimensional Expeditionary Long Range Radar program. The company is expected to offer the G/ATOR radar for the program.

Proposals are due this month.

The company has also been in talks with some foreign nations, though Meaney would not disclose specific countries.

Topics: Missile Defense, Air Power

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