February 25, 2013
Credit: AWST/U.S. Navy Concept
It is the best of times and the worst of times for the U.S. Navy's air and missile defense radar (AMDR) program.
On the technological and program front, AMDR is in fine shape. The competing contractors tout the capability and affordability of their suites and systems, while the leading platform for the ship—the Flight III Arleigh Burke DDG-51-class destroyer—is proceeding as planned.
But there is the impact of sequestration, now slated to take effect on March 1, under the 2012 U.S. Budget Control Act. In such an austere scenario, the only relief afforded to the Navy and other services would be authority for reprogram funding.
In deciding how to reprogram money, Navy officials will have to decide whether to fund maintenance and support for existing missions or for vital but future service needs such as AMDR or the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS). That could be a losing game, officials acknowledge, for assets yet to come. This is especially true as current—and improved—vessel platforms and systems such as the SPY radar-based Aegis system suite are proving capable for ship and ballistic missile defense (BMD).
The choice of which contractor to develop and build AMDR likely will depend on which team offers the best price in meeting the Navy's requirements, according to officials at Northrop Grumman, one of the competitors.
“The requirements are out there,” says Carl Herbermann, Northrop Grumman's director of surface radar development. Instead of trying to increase performance, he says, Northrop can focus on the best cost savings for levels set by the Navy.
Government Accountability Office (GAO) estimates say AMDR will cost $2.2 billion for R&D and $13.2 billion for up to 24 radars, although industry sources say it can be done for much less. AMDR is slated to have a 15-dB gain over SPY-1D. Patrick Antkowiak, Northrop Grumman's vice president and general manager for advanced concepts and technologies, declines to say whether the GAO estimates are correct, but acknowledges affordability will be key. Northrop Grumman and competitors Lockheed Martin and Raytheon say the technology has advanced quickly and become more affordable. Navy officials agree.