As Army increases Q-53 acquisition goal, Lockheed envisions multimission role for radars

By Dan Schere / November 9, 2023

SYRACUSE, NY -- With the Army continuing to increase its acquisition target for the AN/TPQ-53 radar system, manufacturer Lockheed Martin is envisioning a future for the radar that serves multiple missions, including a counter-drone capability.

The service increased its acquisition objective for the Q-53 to 217 in fiscal year 2023, the Army acquisition office confirmed to Inside Defense this week. The increase was driven by “recent increases in force structure,” according to the office.

The Army began to deploy the Q-53 radar more than a decade ago during the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. The radar system has been used for counterfire operations in tracking rockets, artillery and mortars, operating with mission command systems and providing data to the Forward Area Air Defense Command and Control (FAAD C2).

This marks the second time in the preceding two fiscal years that the Army has increased its acquisition objective for the Q-53. The service increased the procurement goal from 189 to 205 systems in April 2022 due to force structure changes in which eight new Army National Guard division artilleries were activated, according to budget justification materials. Those 16 systems were awarded in conjunction with Ukraine Assistance funds, according to the Defense Department.

A new mission for the Q-53 is integrating it with the FAAD C2 for use as the primary sensor to control a counter-UAS defeat system, which was previously demonstrated in Yuma, AZ, David Kenneweg, Lockheed’s program director for multimission air defense radars, told reporters during a visit to the company’s rotary and mission systems facility Nov. 2 here in Syracuse.

There are also receiver exciter and signal processor upgrades planned for the Q-53, which will enhance the system’s ability to operate in contested environments.

“What we're doing there is we're leveraging some of the technologies from some of our other radars and we're bringing that in as a mod kit. And with that, it's enabling us to be able to kind of have a higher resiliency and survivability in those contested environments such as electromagnetic or cyber,” he said.

Lockheed’s Q-53 backlog includes 28 that are on contract for the U.S. Army and another six for international customers, officials said last week. If the extended-range capability is ready in time, it could be included in the delivery of the 28 radars for the Army, Vice President for Radar & Sensor Systems Chandra Marshall said. If not, the capability will be part of the retrofit for the program, she said.

From a broader market perspective, Marshall said Lockheed’s focus has been on “having a radar that can perform [multiple] missions simultaneously for the customers.”

“There's a heavy focus on any sensor, any shooter. So, the ability of our radars to be able to interface with any combat system is the foundation for our designs. It is to make it easy and to make . . . our track quality good enough so that we can provide it to any combat system and be . . . that conduit to be able to make decisions from a firepower perspective,” she said.

Lockheed has also focused on incorporating software upgrades into its new products, because changing the hardware can prove costly, Marshall said.

“Having built it into our architectures from the get-go, and just introducing software to bring out additional capability really allows us to go faster for our customers with the capability that they're buying already,” she said.

Sentinel A4 operational evaluation systems to deliver by year’s end

The Sentinel A4 radar’s five initial user operational evaluation systems are set for delivery by the end of this calendar year, Lockheed officials said last week. Those are the five systems that will be used for initial operational test & evaluation, which is scheduled for the first quarter of fiscal year 2025, according to Kenneweg.

Meanwhile, the Army greenlit the Sentinel A4 for low-rate initial production this summer, and 19 systems are set for delivery in “mid-2025,” he said. A full-rate production decision will eventually be made based on the results of the IOT&E testing.

The Sentinel A4 is among the sensors the military plans to use in an air and missile defense system of Guam, and the radar was also selected last year to replace legacy radars in the defense of the National Capital Region. Lockheed officials were hesitant last week to elaborate on the timing of when the Sentinel A4 might be deployed for either of these capabilities.

“The system has been designed to be able to have a growth capability to it. And we'll be looking at embracing that growth capability, as we utilize those for other initiatives, maybe in the defense of Guam or potentially with the capital region,” Kenneweg said.

Lockheed targeting next summer for TPY-4 delivery to Air Force

The TPY-4, a “multimission, ground-based radar for air defense surveillance that can operate in contested electromagnetic environments” is currently undergoing testing at Lockheed’s testing facility in Cazenovia, NY -- about 20 miles southeast of Syracuse.

Steve Allen, Lockheed’s program director for ground-based air surveillance, said the company is working its way from system-level technology testing, and will eventually move on to back-end processing testing. Much of the back-end processing testing will be conducted in labs, and will involve “understanding the algorithms,” he said. Lockheed is targeting June to deliver the radar to the Air Force for its initial testing.

Allen said the office of the director of operational test and evaluation has been involved with the TYP-4 testing already.

“And what we're really looking for is how do we accelerate the test program so we can get the capability out to the Air Force faster,” he said.