I’ve had this post in the works for a bit and a comment by “Nick” prompted me to post it. Thanks “Nick”!
The Navy has been developing an active array Dual Band Radar (DBR) for some time, now. The radar operates over two distinct bands utilizing a single software suite and control interface.
AN/SPY-3 X-band – provides horizon search and detection of low altitude targets and offers illumination and data unlink/downlink for Standard and ESSM missiles. The radar was originally intended to have three array faces.
VSR S-band (SPY-4?) – provides volume search and tracking. The radar was originally intended to have three array faces.
The two bands can operate in multiple modes and are intended to fill the roles of separate radars for air traffic control, target illumination, tracking, surface search, and navigation, thus eliminating multiple legacy radar units.
The radar system is intended to operate with minimal operator input. In theory, this would eliminate operate mistakes or ineffective actions due to human threat assessment and response.
You’ll recall that the radar was intended to be installed in the Zumwalt and Ford classes. As it happened, the S-band half of the system was removed from the design of the Zumwalt class as a cost reduction move. Now, the Navy reports that the DBR will only be installed on the Ford and future ships of the class will receive a new, as yet unspecified radar. Navy spokesmen have suggested that the termination of the system is based on “economics and need”.
ComNavOps has long questioned the need for a cutting edge radar system for a carrier that has no area air defense missile system and is constantly surrounded by Aegis cruisers and destroyers. Apparently, the Navy now agrees.
I have not seen any cost figures for the DBR but given the hype the system has received from the Navy, to terminate its production must indicate that the system is very expensive. One Navy spokesman stated that the system was on the order of $500M and that selection of an alternate system for subsequent Fords would produce savings of $180M (1). As an aside, simple arithmetic suggests, then, that the replacement radar would cost on the order of $320M. Hopefully, this won’t be an F-22/35 case where the cheaper replacement turns out to actually be more expensive.
The Navy has suggested that the DBR replacement radar will be a simpler, off-the-shelf system that will be fitted to multiple ship classes. If so, this is a step in the right direction. ComNavOps has long advocated simpler systems that meet only the class requirements and no more – in other words, no Aegis on patrol boats, to engage in a bit of hyperbole for the sake of dramatic impact. A carrier has no need for a world class DBR so why give it one? All that would do is add cost. While the decision to eliminate the DBR from the Ford class is a good one, the original decision to include it is an example of very poor decision making, devoid of tactical usefulness and ignorant of cost considerations. This is just one of many reasons why the Ford cost has escalated to $13B and additional construction and costs are being deferred to post-delivery in order to get around the Congressionally imposed cost cap.
The Ford DBR will, therefore, be a one-off radar system. You’ll recall what happened to the
’s original radar system? We’ll undoubtedly see the DBR removed from Ford sometime down the line. Enterprise