GaN-Based Patriot Prototype Preps For Public Debut

February 29, 2016

Defense News:

ANDOVER, Mass. — Raytheon’s bet on a new radar for its Patriot air and missile defense system is now fully functional and ready for its public debut at the Association of the US Army’s Global Force Symposium in Huntsville, Alabama, in March, company officials said.

Raytheon executives took a few reporters on a tour of the company’s Integrated Air Defense Center, where they build Patriot systems and the radar technology they pitched as the future of air and missile defense: Gallium Nitride (GaN) Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar. The facility houses a foundry for GaN and its predecessor Gallium Arsenide.

It’s a sizable bet. Raytheon has invested over $100 million over three years to develop the GaN AESA radar, augmented with US government investment over time, Ralph Acaba, the company’s vice president of Integrated Air and Missile Defense, said Wednesday.

The Patriot system was fielded to the Army in 1982 and Raytheon has continuously upgraded the system with investments from the US and 13 partner nations. The system is expected to stay fielded until at least 2040.

But Raytheon has not been able to rest on its laurels. Lockheed Martin developed a competing air and missile defense system called the Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS) and is directly competing with Raytheon stateside and abroad for future deals.

“The future is about how do you continue to put in capability, how do you continue to allow for the growth of the system, how do you continue to bring the cost of the operating system down, the reliability up, how do you prepare it for the future of air and missile defense where it’s plugging into a network to be compatible with the Army’s [Integrated Air and Missile Defense] concept that is the future,” Acaba said. “Active arrays are key to that [and] GaN is the next technology that those arrays are going to be built out of.”

Patriot radars currently use Gallium Arsenide (GaAs), a semiconductor material. Raytheon believes GaN will bring exponentially more capability to the Patriot system and double the system’s reliability. Moving to a GaN radar also frees up space in the system to add redundancy, or future capability like the Integrated Battle Command System, the command and control for the Army’s future air and missile defense system.

And the “beauty of the active array technology, you’ve got distributed elements so that anyone of them dies, no big deal, you’ve got plenty of redundancy,” Acaba said.

Additionally, the GaN radar integration into Patriot required very few new software changes. “It wasn’t zero changes, but it was miniscule,” Acaba said, “and we were up and tracking targets, I think, within a few days.”

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