NavWeek: AMDR -- Pulse Check

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For years now, the discussion revolving around the U.S. Navy’s vaunted proposed air-and-missile-defense radar (AMDR) – as it related to the Navy’s even-more vaunted, and proven, Aegis combat system – has been how much better and even different AMDR would be than the existing ship shield.

But now, Navy officials are saying, folks should be looking at that AMDR-Aegis relationship in a whole new light. They are not competing systems at all – AMDR is an evolution of Aegis.

“We’ll be adding a new proven radar to the Aegis combat system,” says Capt. Doug Small, AMDR program manager.

True, the Navy’s Aegis combat system remains the current gold standard for missile defense and the system’s planned improvements will make an even more effective missile shield.

But AMDR’s technology will allow ships to provide greatly improved simultaneous ballistic and air missile defense for only slightly more weight, coolant and power needs, which all translates to less acquisition cost and about the same maintenance costs as existing Aegis systems, Small says.

The three contractor teams vying for AMDR – led by Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Raytheon – have all already proven necessary technologies for AMDR, he says.

And AMDR will be able to operate with only a fraction of the resources needed to run all of dual-band radar (DBR) or even existing Aegis SPY radars to conduct similar missions, he says.

As initially proposed, AMDR will consist of an S-band radar for BMD and air defense, an X-band radar for horizon search, and a radar suite controller that controls and integrates the two radars.

But there have been some recent changes to that plan.

“The X-band portion of AMDR will be comprised of an upgraded version of an existing rotating radar (SPQ-9B), instead of the new design initially planned,” GAO notes. “The new radar will instead be developed as a separate program at a later date and integrated with the 13th AMDR unit.”

There are 22 planned AMDRs.

AMDR-S with the SPQ-9Bs – also called “spook nines” – will provide every bit of anti-air Warfare (AAW) coverage and protection that AMDR would have offered with the AMDR X-band radar, despite some analysts’ assertions to the contrary, Small says.

Technology advancements, Small says, have not only made the AMDR just as – or even more – capable as hoped, but at a much more affordable price tag, Small says.

The AMDR’s total price tag will be about $5.8 billion, says a recent U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, compared to the $15.2 billion projected last year.

That kind of cost reduction – coupled with the association with the Aegis mystique – will certainly make AMDR much easier to accept throughout Navy circles, especially the surface-ship crowd.

Going forward, though, the Navy will have to take great pains to ensure the competitiveness of the AMDR program. The service can ill afford to have this effort be seen as just an extension of the “Aegis Mafia,” often seen as a stumbling block to competitiveness.

AMDR cannot be seen as just another baseline improvement for Aegis – and therefore the automatic property of Lockheed, the combat system’s creator and prime contractor throughout the decades.

The Navy has taken great pains thus far to make sure AMDR is a separate competitive effort. It needs to stick to that course.

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