DVIDS – News – NSWC Dahlgren Division Researches Future Radar Systems on the Potomac River


On a recent hot afternoon at the Potomac River test range, recreational speedboats and jet skis zipped through the cool waters as a handful of Navy engineers gathered on land under a reconnaissance and surveillance tower, to begin powering a mobile engineering laboratory mounted 40 feet in the air. A member of the navy group pointed out a good target of opportunity in the distance, and as this speedboat slowed to round a curve in the river, the shore party engaged their radar system and began to assess the resulting data.

The day’s test outwardly resembles the opening moments of a clash between hostile surface warships, with the 40ft tower acting as a proxy for a ship’s radar mast. If it was a real hostile encounter, these personnel could quickly help rain volleys of naval artillery fire on their target. However, since this is the peaceful Potomac River, the test and evaluation exercise ended at the data collection stage. The team also demonstrated a constant awareness of the need to be a safe and non-disruptive presence on the river. “We are good from a safety standpoint,” chief engineer Said Darham proactively noted earlier in the afternoon, citing a solid list of checks and cross-checks that were carried out before the test event.

Since the summer of 2020, Darham and his team of engineers at the Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division have been using the prototype radar as a test tool and risk reduction system in support of the Future X-Band Radar (FXR) program of Marine. If all goes as planned, FXR will one day replace the older SPQ-9B radar system, which has nearly two decades of field experience detecting distant targets from aircraft carriers, amphibious assault ships, amphibious transport ships, guided missile cruisers, destroyers and Coast Guard cutters.

The project sponsor for FXR has enlisted Dahlgren’s expertise to support benchmarking overseas and determine how the latest technology used by Allied and partner nations compares to domestically manufactured X-band radars. Dahlgren’s team noted that the equipment currently being evaluated compares favorably on several measures. “Size, weight, power, cost and cooling are paramount,” Darham explained, adding that “the prototype radar we’re testing can go a long way toward achieving these goals.”

The equipment currently being tested on the Potomac did not actually start out as radar. According to Darham, engineers started with a commercial off-the-shelf antenna designed specifically for military aircraft. After modifications at Dahlgren, the aircraft system now points above water and can respond to the unique characteristics of a naval environment. This is the equipment housed inside the mobile engineering lab at the top of the tower. Testing is conducted at the Potomac River Test Range, as it combines some of the benefits of a controlled laboratory environment, with real-life activities such as speedboats and coastal vegetation that act as “marine clutter and “earth clutter” for radar test purposes.

“The clutter profile an aircraft antenna sees is very different from what a ship antenna sees,” Darham explained. “We want to continue collecting data with the AESA aircraft, generating clutter maps and implementing smart algorithms to distinguish between what is a target of interest and what is not.” Darham also referenced comparisons of various performance metrics, such as EMI survivability, out-of-band blocking capability, and interconnected statistics for size, weight, power, cost, and cooling. which are collectively known as “SWaPC2”.

“The sponsor and industry partners are helping to establish future baseline designs for FXR that meet the Navy’s needs for next-generation radars,” Darham explained. “Having a prototype X-band radar in a naval-like environment serves as a testing and evaluation ground to support current and future active sensor surges.”

Date taken: 04.06.2022
Date posted: 19.04.2022 20:07
Story ID: 418795
Location: DAHLGREN, Virginia, USA

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