Patriot incumbent Raytheon aims to hold onto franchise with new LTAMDS radar

April 22, 2019

By Jason Sherman

ANDOVER, MA -- Protruding from the side of a pair of two-story buildings here are dozens of oversize pipes that turn down at a right angle and extend directly to the ground, a quirky architectural feature that brings to mind insect legs.

When viewed from above, however, the intent of these oversize pipes is clear: they give the square buildings -- both erected in the late 1980s -- the look of a state-of-the-art computer circuit from that era.

This is Raytheon's radio frequency components -- gallium arsenide (GaAs) and gallium nitride (GaN) -- foundry, where the building design was intended to inspire innovation for the company's more than 300-employee microcircuit brain trust, which designs, develops and manufactures custom-made monolithic microwave integrated circuits.

Raytheon and the U.S. government have invested more than $300 million in developing GaN technology here since 1999, helping the company capture new Defense Department weapons programs worth more than $15 billion in recent years, including the Next Generation Jammer, the Air and Missile Defense Radar and the Three-Dimensional Expeditionary Long Range Radar.

Raytheon is hoping new custom-made GaN components developed in this foundry will now help capture another multibillion-dollar effort: the Army's new Lower Tier Air and Missile Defense Radar Sensor program.

On April 22, Raytheon, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman are required to deliver their respective LTAMDS candidate radars to White Sands Missile Range, NM, in preparation for each to demonstrate their sensors against a series of targets in May and June. The so-called LTAMDS "sense-off" is a high-stakes event: it marks a once-in-a-generation chance to replace the Army's Patriot radar.

The Patriot air and missile defense system -- one of the Army’s Big Five modernization programs launched during the Reagan administration and which first achieved widespread notoriety in the 1991 Gulf War in the hunt for Iraqi Scud missiles -- is a Raytheon franchise. Company executives say it's not taking its incumbency for granted.

Along with the new GaN components, Raytheon is touting a new $172 million investment in radar production facilities here and in Mississippi -- featuring state-of-the-art automated technology -- along with the manufacturing line on the industrial campus here as part of a pitch to the Army that the company has a turn-key solution to deliver a next-generation air and missile defense radar.

While the winner of the "sense-off" will be contracted to build six LTAMDS radars, the potential market size points to many more orders. The Army has more than 60 Patriot radars and there are more than 150 Patriot radars used around the world.

The oversized pipes poking out of the foundry serve a purpose beyond pretend wire bonds. They are part of an air filtration system that feeds air into the "clean rooms" where technicians and equipment engineers -- all clad head-to-toe in so-called "bunny suits" designed to prevent shedding of skin and hair in the manufacturing space -- manufacture GaN wafers, beginning by bonding molecules at the atomic level, or one-hundred-millionths-of-a-centimeter-wide, layer upon layer.

"The fundamental limitations of any radar is how much power can I put out? And how sensitive is my receiver?" said Ronald Gyurcsik, Raytheon's director of foundry business. "GaN is used for the low-noise amplifier which is receiving, as well as what is amplifying out. So you have a fundamental limitation and GaN has an advantage over other technologies."

GaN provides five times the power of predecessor technology gallium arsenide, allowing a radar, for instance, to put more energy through the circuit and improving the reach of the sensor, without causing the component to heat up as much. Lockheed and Northrop are also expected to offer LTAMDS radar offerings that utilize GaN; Lockheed acquires its GaN components from outside vendors and Northrop, like Raytheon, has a GaN foundry.

"The value that we bring is not just in the material and the fabrication, but from the design standpoint. And the feedback that allows us quicker iterations to maximize the performance," said Christopher MacDonald, a Raytheon engineering fellow. "When you buy a commercial, off-the-shelf part that is just a single-stage transistor, what one company will get is the same: it is just off the shelf," he continued. "We can customize it, we receive requirements flowing down, we'll customize our [monolithic microwave integrated circuits] based on a frequency band, based on a power level. That's where we are not just selling the same widget to everybody, we're customizing for our products and our applications."

Sprint to sense-off

The foundry sits at the south end of Raytheon Integrated Defense Systems' complex here, home to 4,500 employees primarily building radars and specialized electronic components for other Raytheon weapons.

When the Army, in October, announced plans to conduct an LTAMDS sense-off, the stakes for the competition were raised. The surprise change in the acquisition plan accelerated the schedule to deliver a Patriot radar replacement by five years, from 2027 to 2022.

The sense-off also effectively scrapped the Army's plans for the original LTAMDS program of record -- a competition between Lockheed Martin and Raytheon -- and opened the field, once again, to include Northrop Grumman. All three companies in late 2017 received LTAMDS concept development contracts; the field was narrowed in September 2018 to Lockheed and Raytheon. But that acquisition strategy was jettisoned the following month in part to address concerns in Congress and within the Army leadership about a need to field a Patriot radar replacement sooner.

With less than seven months to ready a new radar for the sense-off, Raytheon officials utilized their immersive design center here, called the CAVE (for cave automatic virtual environment), to collaborate on design and production and finalize the company’s LTAMDS proposal.

With five stereoscopic three-dimensional projectors powered by a room of supercomputers with giant view screens in the round, the CAVE allowed Raytheon's LTAMDS team here to use the huge screens to do everything from review spreadsheets, pull in experts at other locations or wear Oculus goggles to virtually rearrange components and "travel" through the sensor like a mouse in refining the final product.

The work pulled together in a final package years of effort in the GaN foundry and at test ranges, according to company officials.

"Not only did we have hardware when [the Army] announced [the sense-off], we also had a roadmap that -- because of our design maturity -- allowed us to accelerate to keep up with the pace that the Army wanted to go," Bob Kelley, Raytheon's director of business development and strategy for integrated air and missile defense domestic programs, said in an interview here last month. "We had been working with them in the concept development phase. Our design for the objective system they want to field to the soldiers in 2022 -- we had that when they announced that they wanted to do this. That really helped us in getting ready for a sense-off on this kind of a time line."

Doug Burgess, Raytheon's LTAMDS program director, said the company has been working for six to seven years "directly on technologies related to LTAMDS."

The company has had prototype technology for a Patriot radar replacement program at its testing range in Pelham, NH, since 2016.

"We've had a radar up at our open-air range in southern New Hampshire for two-and-a-half years, eye in the sky, as we've been wringing out problems," Burgess said.

In 2017, Raytheon, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman -- along with a fourth company that is no longer participating in the event -- were awarded concept development contracts to work with the Army on potential LTAMDS technologies.

As part of that effort, Burgess said Raytheon has been working to "really drive those technologies toward their requirements."

In December 2018, Raytheon revealed its LTAMDS offering would not be a derivative of the Patriot radar, but will be a "clean-sheet radar design."

The LTAMDS radar "is not like some of these newer radars that are in a building where you have space to be able to put cooling and power distribution systems," Burgess said, referring to large, new sensors the Defense Department is acquiring for space situational awareness or ballistic missile defense. "You have to package this so that you can get through the tunnels in Europe, so that it can fit on transport airplanes. It is not an easy task," he said.

"A lot of the prototype demonstrations that we've done over the last year and a half with the Army has been showing how we could package this stuff appropriately, get the heat out, maintain a high power efficiency so that we're maximizing our use of the power that is coming in off the generator," Burgess said of the technical tasks. "And it is going toward radar power and less toward heat dissipation and things that aren’t contributing to the mission."

"Fundamentally that’s where we're at from a design-maturity standpoint. All these critical technologies that are needed to do the mission are done," he said.

The final challenge in pulling the underlying technology into an LTAMDS offering for the Army has been, "Can you put it in a package and make it transportable?" he said. "We're telling you: done."

It is a new radar, he added. "This isn't Patriot or even Patriot on steroids."

Last week, the company gathered its staff around the new LTAMDS radar before packing it up on an Antonov cargo plane and flying it to White Sands Missile Range, NM.

The Army has ranked 10 capabilities that it wants in an LTAMDS radar. First is the ability to defend against tactical ballistic missiles; second is defense against anti-radiation missions and anti-surface missiles; third is non-tactical ballistic missile defense; fourth is "full-sectored" defense; fifth is electronic protection; sixth is "kill assessment/interceptor" support; seventh is operations and sustainment; eighth is training; ninth is emplacement accuracy; and 10th is "mass attack."

"The Army wants extended battlespace, they want to get the maximum kinematic range of all the effectors in their inventory, and they want growth potential in the future," said Kelley. "They want growth potential that they can do without a lot of cost. When a new technology comes out, they want to be able to insert that quickly. So, we are focused they get those three things, in the context" of the Army's top-10 LTAMDS requirements.

Raytheon's LTAMDS offering adopts Modular Open Systems Architecture, meant to facilitate technology insertion at any time. This mimics open-system approaches to software, which Raytheon's proposal also incorporates, he said. "There are a lot of great things you can do by just tweaking the radar to get growth potential out of the system we are building, but we are also doing that from a hardware perspective as well."

Raytheon's proposal is a "scalable system," Kelley added, "so that if the Army decides they just want a sectored radar, we'll give them a sectored radar. But we can scale that to a 360-degree radar or, as some people might call it . . . full-sector defense radar," he said, referring to the Army's top-10 list.

Turn-key radar lines

Raytheon says it has a turn-key operation ready to begin -- should it win the competition -- to deliver a Patriot replacement sensor. "We can turn the crank on the assembly line," said Mike Nachshen, a Raytheon spokesman.

That production line includes a circuit card assembly line here, where approximately 800 people work three shifts around the clock to produce components for radar and missiles responsible for the processing power, logic and radar signals that enable systems such as the AMDR and 3DELRR to monitor the sky for threats.

"There are thousands of circuit cards in each system," said Sahil Maripuri, operations lead on the S-band product line in the circuit card assembly, said of each Raytheon radar.

The assembly of each circuit card begins at what is effectively a high-tech workbench.

"We apply solder paste and install all surface mount components" and then "utilize digital X-ray as well as automated optical inspection technology to ensure quality on all of our products," Maripuri said. To make the most advanced circuit cards, robots are used to apply tiny gold ribbon threads.

A five-minute walk from the circuit card assembly area is a new, 30,000-square-foot addition -- the Advanced Radar Facility, which the company opened in August as part of a Raytheon project to expand capability and capacity.

"The facility is the home for next-generation radar development," said Sarah Jennette, radar development facility program manager.

The $72 million addition -- financed by Raytheon -- is a light-filled manufacturing floor with 60-foot-high ceilings.

Bolted in the center of the room is a massive, yellow, industrial-strength robot assembling the first batch of arrays for the Navy's new Air and Missile Defense Radar, the SPY-6. Technically, the Fanuc robot -- similar to robots used in automotive production -- is two robots paired together, a smaller one attached to the end of the arm of a larger robot -- in a custom configuration for radar production.

The main robot works in tandem with unmanned ground vehicles that autonomously feed the main robot material for assembling new radars.

"We came up with this automation solution that is like one large ecosystem that ties together this entire assembly solution using a first-in-industry, dual-robotic system," Jennette said. "And really what the system does is automate a significant portion of what has historically been manual assembly by utilizing this dual-robotics system. And we've been able to significantly reduce the amount of manual lift per radar, the amount of torques done per radar, and shop-floor transactions -- all of those being historically done by an operator. It is a game-changer."

Jennette said the new facility is much larger than needed to build the SPY-6 radar to scale up if needed.

"It will support new designs across any band we want: X-band, C-band. It is doing S-band right now," she said.

A third-party logistics company coordinates just-in-time delivery of parts needed for the radar assembly. Two days' worth of materials needed for the robot to work are stored in one of three 27-foot grey cages along the wall.

"When the robot is ready to take the part to install it, it will call over to the vertical carousel and the parts will drop down," said Jennette. The parts are then picked up an unmanned cart -- a MiR -- and the ground vehicle delivers the part to the big yellow robot. "And the robot will then pick up those parts and automatically install them into the array."

While a large portion of the assembly process has been automated, there are a few tasks -- such as cabling -- which are still manual, she said. The entire manufacturing facility is run by two to three people, one of whom is a supervisor.

In late March, there were four SPY-6 radar arrays, in various states of assembly, from just begun to nearly complete. When assembled, each radar -- the SPY-6 is one of the largest sensors Raytheon has ever built -- is set on a unmanned dolly that guides the new sensor into one of two near-field test chambers accessed by 38-foot doors.

High ceilings in both the test chamber and manufacturing floor are features adopted in anticipation of potential future contracts for very tall radars, such as the Missile Defense Agency’s requirement for a new Pacific Radar.

Raytheon, betting its new radar proposals will find favor with the Defense Department, is constructing an additional $100 million radar production facility that is nearly twice the size -- 50,000 square feet -- in Forest, MS. It is slated for completion at the end of next year.

When the Mississippi radar production line is open, Jennette said the idea is to use Andover for development and low-rate production and then transition volume production south.

While the SPY-6 radar program is the focus of these new facilities now, Raytheon expects them to support future business.

"That is why we oversized the facility and why we built those larger [test] ranges so that when new customers come knocking, we're ready," Jennette said.