As with many other offices within the Program Executive Officer Land Systems Marine Corps, the Program Management (PM) office for the Marine Corps Ground/Air Task-Oriented Radar (G/ATOR) has experienced growth in its system portfolio over the past year. And, as in many other areas, that growth is bringing with it synergies that position the office to better support Marines today, tomorrow, and well into the future
The cornerstone of the office is G/ATOR, a three-dimensional short- to medium-range tactical radar designed to detect, identify, and track low-level cruise missiles, manned aircraft, and unmanned aerial vehicles as well as rockets, mortar projectiles, and artillery fire.
Developed by prime contractor Northrop Grumman Electronic Systemsin Baltimore, Md., G/ATOR will replace legacy radar systems to perform air surveillance, cue air defense weapons, determine hostile indirect fire firing locations, and provide data to air traffic controllers.
“This is the one system that will do everything, from tracking that hostile UAV to vectoring the friendlies around the sky to observing rockets, artillery, and mortars so you can direct the counterfire,” explained Program Manager for G/ATOR Lee Bond.
Placing those capabilities against a backdrop of the current legacy systems that G/ATOR will replace, he added, “There are threats out there today – like small hovering UAVs – that were not envisioned when our legacy radars were developed and fielded a generation ago. So the performance of our legacy radars against those emergent threats on the modern battlefield is spotty at best. The smaller and slower the target gets and the lower to the ground it flies, the trickier it is for the traditional radar to find it. G/ATOR absolutely wipes out those limitations and gives you complete situational awareness of everything in the sky.
“One of G/ATOR’s ultimate capabilities is to serve as a fire control system and support ground-based air defense in the form of advanced missiles,” he said. “It is a single hardware solution that delivers multiple mission capabilities by adding software.”
Bond characterized the program news surrounding G/ATOR as “all good.” He said, “Northrop Grumman has recently delivered the first system to us after a couple of years of hardware and software development integration and test at the factory in the Baltimore area.”
In late July 2012, Northrop Grumman announced the delivery of its AN/TPS-80 G/ATOR system to Surface Combat Systems Center (SCSC) Wallops Island in eastern Virginia for the government to begin its first and second phases of Developmental Testing (DT). The final phase of DT and the Operational Assessment for G/ATOR will be conducted in Yuma, Ariz., early in 2013.
Describing Wallops Island as “primarily a NASA facility,” Bond pointed to the fact that “the Navy is a tenant command there and basically does ‘testing on the beach,’ since all their shipboard radars have to be able to look out over the ocean. It’s proven to be a good place for them to do open air tests for their advanced radar systems. So we’re going to take G/ATOR down there, park it on the beach, and have all that Navy infrastructure that’s there support us in testing it over the course of the next six months or so.
“Following that Wallops Island testing, we’ll move out to Yuma, Ariz., for some additional testing with desert and mountains in the background as compared to the seashore boundary that we get at Wallops Island,” he added. “And all of this will culminate in sufficient performance characterization so that a year from now [summer 2013] we can start low-rate production and begin making G/ATORs for delivery to Marine operating forces.
“Thus, the program has achieved a significant milestone in terms of graduating out of the contractor’s factory and moving into this period of formal testing by the government – all in anticipation of entering production next year,” he said. “And all of that is in accordance with the master schedule that we have been held to for the past three years. So that’s also good news: It’s not just that we are making progress, but we are also on schedule and living within our budget.
“The other piece of good news that takes us a little bit further into the future is that because we are executing well, the service has agreed to support us in future budget cycles in transitioning from our current gallium arsenide [GaAs] semiconductor technology to the next-generation semiconductor technology, known as gallium nitride [GaN],” he continued, explaining that GaN will make G/ATOR “cost less and/or work better, along with weighing less and consuming less power.
“It is why your cell phone is now slightly smaller than a deck of playing cards when it used to be a brick,” he said.
“When we get some of that same semiconductor technology into G/ATOR it truly makes us state of the art,” he continued. “It gains us a lot of efficiencies. And it will save money because we just won’t need as much physical mass in the radar to get the same performance out of it. That’s also why it weighs less and consumes less power. Moreover, it brings us into line with our sister services and their next-generation radar requirements.”