Navy Massively Leveling-Up AN/SPY-6 Radars to Detect Incoming Missiles and Fighter Jets

The longest range radar system variant, the AN/SPY-6 (V)1, is built to detect incoming ballistic missiles beyond the horizon and is being built into Flight III DDG 51 destroyers

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By Kris Osborn - President & Editor-In-Chief, Warrior Maven

Incoming anti-ship cruise missiles, ballistic missiles and even enemy fighter jets closing in on a carrier strike groups, will all be detected with much greater image fidelity and much longer ranges due to the US Navy’s fleet-wide integration of a new, highly-sensitive family of radar systems called the AN/SPY-6. 

AN/SPY-6 Radars

Using a cutting edge application of a high density throughput material called Gallium Nitride, Raytheon innovators have engineered a group of scalable, interconnected threat detection ship radar systems able to see objects half-the size and twice as far as existing radar can. 

Navy weapons developers have characterized the SPY6 family of radars as being 35-times more sensitive than the system it is replacing. The SPY-6 family moves beyond existing AN/SPY-1 ship-integrated radar systems and, according to an interesting essay in "Microwave Journal"...”handles 30 times more targets and has 30-times greater sensitivity than the SPY-1D(V).” (“Radar and Phased Array Breakthroughs,” Eli Booker)

The longest range variant, the AN/SPY-6 (V)1, is built to detect incoming ballistic missiles arriving from beyond the horizon. The (V)1s are now being built into new Flight III DDG 51 destroyers. Building upon this, the Navy is now networking its entire fleet with the systems with various kinds of SPY-6 radars…. Amphibs, Carriers, the new Frigates and more.

“There is a lot of focus on the next generation SPY 6 radar that is going on every single platform you can name in the Navy,” Capt. Jason Hall, Sensors Program Manager, Naval Sea Systems Command, said to an audience at the 2022 Surface Navy Association Symposium. 

SPY-6 radar systems, combined with fire control and an advanced software-ballistic missile defense system called Aegis Baseline 10, set the technical foundation for the fleet. Discrimination is of course a vital advantage associated with increased radar sensitivity, as it can discern threat objects from other less-relevant items such as friendly platforms or flying debris.

The use of a scalable antenna, composed of 2ft X 2ft X 2ft Radar Module Assembly building blocks, has enabled developers to engineer tailored, mission-specific, SPY 6 radar applications for different platforms.

SPY-6 radars are built from individual ‘building blocks’ called Radar Modular Assemblies, or self-contained radars that come in 2’x2’x2’ boxes.


Alongside the SPY-6 (V)1, Raytheon and the Navy are now integrating several additional SPY-6 variants for carriers and amphibs, specifically tailored to their respective mission scopes. 

The SPY-6 (V) 2, for instance, is a smaller rotating radar and a SPY-6 (V) 3 has three fixed radar faces on the deck houses. These variants will go on both Nimitz class and Ford-class carriers. The (V) 3 has nine radar module assemblies. The (V)3 has three fixed spaces looking out at a different angle, covering 360-degrees with 120-degree panels each. Finally, there is a SPY-6 (V)4 which will be integrated onto existing DDG 51 IIA destroyers during a mid-life upgrade. The (V) 4 has 24 Radar Module Assemblies, compared to the (V) 1, which has 37.

“We're putting the SPY 6 v2 and v3s on our carriers, Frigates and amphibious ships, so that is going to bring the same kind of game changing capability to those platforms,” Hall said. 

Raytheon’s emerging family of breakthrough, highly-sensitive Navy ship radar systems are able to follow multiple incoming threat “tracks” from a single, integrated system. 

The AN/SPY 6 family of radars is a next-generation highly-sensitive ship-integrated threat detection system designed to track multiple approaching missile, rocket, drone or aircraft threats on a single, highly-sensitive threat detection radar system. 

The longest-range ballistic missile tracking SPY 6 radar is now being installed on the Navy’s DDG 51 Flight III destroyers, yet other variants of the SPY 6 family are being built into amphibious assault ships, carriers, cruisers and other ships in need of highly -sensitive threat object detection. 

The SPY 6 family of radars operate on a common software and hardware technical system, yet they are scalable and can be adjusted to fit the specific mission requirements of a given platform. A carrier or an amphib, for example, may need air and cruise missile defense but might not need the most sensitive ballistic missile defense tracking technology built into the Navy’s DDG 51 Flight III Arleigh Burke-class destroyers. 

Raytheon’s SPY-6 radar transmitter uses a material known as military-grade Gallium Nitride (GaN), a substance explained by Raytheon developers as up to 1,000-times more efficient that the existing Gallium Arsenide used today.
When it comes to application, the SPY-6 radar systems streamline otherwise disparate fire-control and detection technologies; the SPY-6 can cue short-range, closer-in interceptors as well as longer-range ballistic missile interceptors such as an SM-3. This shortens sensor-to-shooter time and offers war commanders a longer window with which to make decisions about which countermeasure is needed. This integration is precisely the kind of defense needed to counter a multi-pronged, coordinated enemy attack potentially combining ballistic missiles with cruise missiles, drone attacks...and more. 

SPY-6 is the U.S. Navy family of radars that perform air and missile defense on seven classes of ships.


For example, an approaching ballistic missile might likely require a longer-range SM-3 interceptor missile….a sea-skimming cruise missile might require an Evolved Sea Sparrow Block II interceptor …..and approaching enemy aircraft, helicopter or drone might require an SM-6, deck-mounted guns or even laser weapons...and fast-approaching small boats might require the Close-In-Weapons system -- all of which comprise different elements of a ship’s layered defenses. Advanced automation, and even human-controlled AI-enabled processing, sensors and networked fire control might quickly allow Navy ships to employ many of these to operate simultaneously in response to multiple tracks detected by SPY-6 radar.

Multi-Beam Integration

A phenomenon known as multi-beam integration is what helps facilitate the simultaneous tracking of several threats at once, as it can synthesize horizon scanning and precision tracking with wide-area volume search and Ballistic Missile Defense discrimination. 

Digital Beam Forming, according to Navy and Raytheon developers, can make multiple-track radar applications possible. An interesting essay in a publication called "RadarTutorial" explains how “multiple independent, narrow beams steered in all directions can be formed in the digital beam forming processor. 

The Microwave Journal essay further describes that “adaptive digital beam forming and radar signal processing functionality further improve the radar’s ability to function in adverse conditions.” 

Interestingly, the Microwave Journal essay specifically cites some of Raytheon’s digital beam forming technology… stating:"….

Raytheon is developing a mixer-less system with direct RF analog-to-digital conversion that has greater than 400 MHz instantaneous bandwidth and is reconfigurable, able to switch between S- and X-Band... -- Microwave Journal, “Radar and Phased Array Breakthroughs” (Eli Booker)

During Previous Surface Navy Association appearance, Hall has addressed this synergy between multiple beams as involving “S-band radar, X-band radar and a Radar Suite Controller (RSC). RSC coordinates S and X band interfaces.” S-band, according to “Radartutorial,” provides wide-area volume search, target tracking, Ballistic Missile Defense discrimination and missile tracking. X-band, the essay describes, “provides horizon search, precision tracking, missile communications and final illumination of guidance to targets.

”This multi-beam integration is what helps facilitate the simultaneous tracking of several threats at once, as it can synthesize horizon scanning and precision tracking with wide-area volume search and Ballistic Missile Defense discrimination.

Kris Osborn is the Defense Editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Master's Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.

Kris Osborn, Warrior Maven President, Center for Military Modernization

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