G/ATOR diorama
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The US military’s long run of unquestioned air superiority has led to shortcuts in mobile land-based air defenses, and the US Marines are no exception. A December 2005 release from Sen. Schumer’s office [D-NY] said that:

“Current radar performance does not meet operational forces requirements… consequences could potentially allow opposing forces to gain air and ground superiority in future operational areas.”

One of the programs in the works to address this gap is the AN/TPS-80 G/ATOR mobile radar system. It’s actually the result of fusing 2 programs: the Multi-Role Radar System (MRRS), and Ground Weapons Locator Radar (GWLR) requirements. When the last G/ATOR software upgrade becomes operational, it will replace and consolidate numerous legacy radars, including the AN/TPS-63 air surveillance, AN/MPQ-62 force control, AN/TPS-73 air traffic control, AN/UPS-3 air defense, and AN/TPQ-36/37 artillery tracking & locating radar systems.

The G/ATOR System

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G/ATOR systems were supposed to be transportable in C-130 Hercules tactical transport aircraft, and by MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotors (underslung), CH-53 heavy helicopters (underslung or internal), or CH-47 heavy lift helicopters (underslung or internal). That’s still sort of true.

The radars themselves were originally slated be mounted on HMMWV jeeps, which would have fit all of these requirements. Issues with weight and protection eventually pushed the Marines to abandon the system’s 3-jeep model, and to make the radar itself a towable trailer.

My ride’s here…
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The system can still be carried in a single C-130, and consists of: (1) a Radar Equipment Group trailer, (2) a Power Equipment Group 60kW generator in an ISO container, and (3) a Communication Equipment Group mounted on a HMMWV. The PEG container will usually be mounted on an MTVR truck, which will also tow the REG trailer. The USMC will also have the option of leaving the truck behind, and airlifting the radar trailer, power container, and C2 HMMWV in 3 separate CH-53 helicopter or MV-22 tilt-rotor loads.

Flexible Fielding: G/ATOR Increments

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The AN/TPS-80 G/ATOR is intended to be a software-based radar. This idea has become common for radios, and many fighter radars offer a number of different modes (air scan, ground looking SAR maps, etc.) via software. The idea for G/ATOR is similar: common hardware that can switch in the field from air traffic control, to aerial volume search and targeting, to artillery counterfire tracking. Northrop Grumman says that some specific switches would require a radar shutdown and restart as the new software is loaded.

This kind of flexibility also lets the USMC field the radar, then add new capabilities via 3 blocks of upgrades:

Initial Increment I – in testing. supports 2 distinct mission areas: Short range air defense, and air surveillance in tactical air operations centers (TAOC), including baseline IFF (identification, friend or foe). G/ATOR program manager Capt. Lee Bond (USN, ret.) explains one of the advantages it offers:

“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.”

Increment I engineering will allow growth to accommodate all following increments without equipment re-design, and will provide an open architecture that makes it easier to upgrade the computers, computer programs, and firmware in all subsequent increments. Its development phase was supposed to end at the end of April, 2012, but SDD/EMD is continuing to July 2013.

Increment II – development underway. will address the Marine Expeditionary Force counter fire/targeting missions, adding ground counter-battery and target acquisition against enemy mortars, rockets, or artillery. The baseline requirements remain, and the Marines have added program R&D funding to investigate the potential for additional capabilities within this area.

Increment III – planning only. This set of improvements will actually come after IV. It adds tactical enhancements for the air mission, including Mode 5/S identification friend or foe (IFF), decoy/electronic counter-counter measures capabilities, electronic protection equipment and software, sensor netting, an advanced radar environmental simulator (RES), and a logistics integrated data environment (IDE, a computer system for managing and monitoring fleet health, spares supply, maintenance instructions, etc.). “Non-cooperative target recognition” capabilities are very useful for identifying enemies, and they’re even more useful if a Marine Corps Hornet’s IFF system has a problem on the way back in.

There’s no firm timeline for Increment III yet, and its components could change. Future plans involve sensor netting and integration with the USMC’s shoulder-fired Stinger air defense missiles, or their successors.

Increment IV – RFI out. will add an air traffic control (ATC) capability, which is extremely useful in disaster relief situations like Haiti. The baseline requirements remain, and the Marines have added program funding to investigate the potential for additional capabilities in this area.

Development will come before Increment III. Existing radars and software for this task are already well-understood, so this was seen as a safer step with a quick payoff. 2015 is the target for development to begin, with 2018 the target for entering service.

The G/ATOR Program

At present, the Marine Corps’ Approved Acquisition Objective is a total of 45 G/ATOR systems, about a 30% drop from the 2005 baseline of 64 systems. The Marines had wanted 81 systems before G/ATOR became a formal program.

G/ATOR began in 2007, and is still in the System Design and Development (SDD) Phase – or, as the Pentagon now calls it: “Engineering and Manufacturing Development” (EMD). Formal government developmental testing (DT) is underway. Initial DT1B1 and DT1B2 phases have been completed at Wallops Island, VA, and DT1B3 is starting at Yuma Proving Grounds, AZ.

Northrop Grumman and the USMC hope that a formal operational assessment (OA) will allow a Milestone C decision in July 2013, with Limited Rate Initial Production beginning in late 2013. Initial Operational Capability is scheduled for 2016.

Tactically, the TPS-80 G/ATOR will fit below the USMC’s existing AN/TPS-59 long-range radars, offering less range, but finer detail within its scan radius. An evolved version may even replace the USMC’s longer-range radars, under the joint service 3DELRR (“3-dealer”) program.

G/ATOR TPS-80: Technology Challenges

Now: TPS-63
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Once all of these increments are implemented, AN/TPS-80 G/ATOR will use its active electronically scanned array (AESA) technology to provide aircraft detection, tracking, and engagement; cruise-missile detection and engagement; ground-weapon location; and military air-traffic control – all in one package.

Radars are all about time & energy management. That has traditionally involved electronic hardware, but these days it relies more on software: marshaling and directing the energies required, placing them high or low as needed, emitting signals at precise times to shape them. The electronics and software must collect and analyze the results, in order to create the right kind of “complete” picture. G/ATOR’s various tasks have very different, even contradictory time/energy requirements. Fulfilling those tasks would require a radar that offered new levels of flexibility.

Both the Marines and Northrop Grumman acknowledged the challenges up front. It has been treated as a technologically difficult program since its inception in 2007.

Making G/ATOR thinkable

APG-81 test mount
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A trio of technology developments made G/ATOR thinkable.

The 1st was a growing trend toward active electronically scanned array (AESA) radars, which are composed of thousands of individual solid state transmit/receive modules that can operate individually or in assigned groups. In addition to the flexibility they offer, AESA radars have smaller sidelobes beyond the main beam focus, which helps to reduce false alarms for applications like counterfire targeting.

The 2nd trend is the growing dominance of software over hardware, especially in controlling and interpreting information from AESA-type radars. Northrop Grumman already had experience implementing different modes in its AESA fighter radars, including a project to turn them into high-bandwidth communications relays.

In G/ATOR’s case, the connection was very direct. Northrop Grumman personnel have confirmed that the F-35 fighter’s AN/APG-81 radar technologies were adapted for use in G/ATOR, and that it will use the APG-81 facility and production line.

The 3rd trend is Moore’s Law, which makes an exponentially-increasing level of computing power available to control radar systems and analyze their returns.

These advances make G/ATOR thinkable, but actually developing it requires very advanced engineering expertise. This is especially true when the radar in question will face the kinds of ground environments and general unpleasantness associated with the US Marines, as opposed to clean air force maintenance hangars and navy decks.

Northrop Grumman’s management made a decision that the benefits of a successful program justified a significant corporate commitment, and gave the program access to top talent within the firm. Now, all they had to do was execute.

Execution, Without Dying

The new G/ATOR
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Every program encounters engineering and financial challenges, and G/ATOR has been no exception.

Creating a radar that can do all of these things, while taking Marine Corps level abuse, required new engineering. To offer just a few examples:

Weight. The ability to take Marine Corps level abuse also requires survivability. Which meant extra weight. The program’s shift away from 3 unarmored and integrated HMMWVs to a “MTVR truck + trailer + HMMWV” configuration cost the development team about a year for re-design, refining, and approval.

Temperature. G/ATOR is designed to operate in ambient temperatures of -40 to +55 degrees Centigrade, and must keep its electronics at a common temperature to avoid data errors. Instead of using heavy 2-stage cooling systems, however, the radar uses forced circulation from fans blowing ambient uncooled air through the array. As a side-benefit, that made the radar lighter.

Scope. These basic design challenges were exacerbated by scope increases, as potential flexibility became thinkable and then real. This is exciting, because new capabilities create additional growth opportunities, and new potential uses. On the other hand, it’s also taxing to a design team already challenged by the core project.

Upgradeability. Then there’s the double-edged sword that is Moore’s Law of geometrically expanding processor chip power.

If a chip is obsolete in 5 years, and may not be produced at all in 10, but the radar must last 30 years, what is one to do? One option is to switch to a processor with 100% more growth capacity early in the project. Given Moore’s Law, that only buys you about 5 more years, maybe 10 at the most. The US military’s growing insistence on open systems architectures and modularity (OSA/ MOSA) will help make future swap-ins easier, but OSA/MOSA implementations are not created equal. Engineering design quality is the difference, which takes time.

Gallium Nitride. Quality engineering also opens new doors, because base technology matters. Thinning air for the generator’s carburetor currently pushes the TPS-80′s PEG below its full 60 kW power output at altitude. Back in 2007, the US military was near the beginning of its efforts to use Gallium Nitride (GaN) as a more efficient semiconductor material. More efficiency equals better performance, so the promise was clear, but the development risks weren’t. In response, the program stuck with conventional Gallium Arsenide (GaAs) electronics, but conducted studies and planned for a switch down the road.

Those studies showed that GaN circuits could draw just 50 kW for full radar power, allowing full effectiveness at 10,000 feet or beyond. Higher altitude naturally improves a radar’s field of view, and is a defining feature in places like Afghanistan, so the tactical impact is significant.

By 2012, research had made considerable advances thanks to investments by DARPA, the US Army, the USAF, and defense firms. The USMC kept its promise to set aside funds for the GaN switch, and USAF development dollars from the 3DELRR program built on good engineering and early planning to help complete the shift. In late FY 2013, the G/ATOR program office began the technology switch from to GaN.

Not cheap.
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Finally, there’s the financial end.

On the bad news front, with more coming, the deliberate devaluation of the US dollar pushed a huge rise in gold’s American dollar price from 2007 to the present day. Gold’s rise has been the subject of many reports, but few link that to gold’s industrial use in the kinds of high-fidelity connectors needed by a radar’s advanced electronics.

On the good news front, G/ATOR has made enough progress that it’s attracting interest in early deployment. That can be dangerous to a program, because the system will still have gaps, which can be exploited by politicians as an excuse to remove funding. The G/ATOR team has had to think hard about this, and one of their conclusions was that they could leverage Urgent Operational Requirements to finish the production program 3 years early. Faster replacement means less money spent maintaining earlier radars, which aren’t in ideal shape. It would also cut 3 years of variable costs out of production.

The current trend is to stretch defense programs out into costlier timelines, in order to save a bit of money each year. Events get a vote, however, and it remains to be seen whether G/ATOR manages to buck the general trend.

G/ATOR TPS-80: Industrial Partners

Industrial partners for the G/ATOR TPS-80 program include:

Northrop Grumman (prime contractor)

Caterpillar Logistics in Morton, IL.

CEA Technologies, Inc. in Canberra, Australia (radar expertise, also involved in the CEAFAR/CEAMount project for Australia).

Curtiss Wright.

Moog Industries.

Saab-Sensis Corporation in Syracuse, NY.

Stanley/Techrizon in Lawton, OK. Formerly Telos.

G/ATOR: Beyond the Marines


G/ATOR began with the Marines, but its team doesn’t expect it to stay there.

When their Highly Expeditionary Long-Range Surveillance Radar program fell victim to budget constraints, the Marines joined the USAF’s 3DELRR air and ballistic missile defense program. In a 2012 interview, G/ATOR program manager Capt. Lee Bond said that G/ATOR’s scope would provide 85% of 3DELRR’s specifications, with the additional capabilities from increments II & IV thrown in for free. He believes that using G/ATOR as a base could cut 2 years from development time, and lower costs by 20% due to economies of scale. Northrop Grumman has openly stated their intent to pursue this path.

Bond also believes that G/ATOR would exceed the expected specifications for the US Army’s coming Multi-Mission Radar solicitation, depending on how the Army defines “simultaneous” multi-mission capability.

Northrop Grumman remains interested in future naval applications, which could lead to scaled G/ATOR technologies equipping smaller ships like the USA’s Littoral Combat Ships, or being incorporated into emerging multi-band radar naval arrays like AMDR. Northrop Grumman will say only that they’re looking at naval applications, and a November 2013 ONR study will look at replacing many of the US Navy’s older air surveillance radars with a G/ATOR derivative.

Then, there are foreign buys. The USA isn’t the only country worried about finding a very different set of targets on modern battlefields, or needing high-performance artillery-tracking radars for deployments abroad. Budget cuts in some countries make multi-mission radars attractive, and Northrop Grumman’s experience has been that ground-based radar exports have been worth 2.0x – 2.5x the value of American orders.

Official expressions of interest aren’t possible until a new system is cleared for those discussions, but Northrop Grumman says that they’ve receive a number of unofficial expressions of interest. Once G/ATOR passes Milestone C and can move into Low-Rate Initial Production, the USMC will be freer to respond to official inquiries from foreign governments. July 2013 is the expected date for that milestone.

TPQ-53 on truck
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Northrop Grumman’s competitors haven’t been idle, of course. Lockheed Martin is busy introducing its new AN/TPQ-53 counter-battery radar, while Raytheon has its MPQ-64 Improved Sentinel series of air defense radars. Abroad, Saab’s Giraffe AMB series of land and sea radars already fuses air surveillance and counter-battery targeting. All of these radars can also take advantage of new technologies, and some variants offer features within G/ATOR’s proposed set.

On the other hand, the TPS-53 grew out of an Army RFP that optimized its architecture for the counter-battery mission, making future additions and changes more difficult. The MPQ-64 Sentinel is a widely-used air defense radar, but its parameters re: range, elevation angle, power, etc. create their own limitations. Both competitors are likely to see continued improvement, but G/ATOR’s level of back-end integration remains unique, and its architecture is likely to give it rate-of-improvement advantages per dollar spent. To date, the TPS-80 G/ATOR remains the only Pentagon JROC-approved program that has funded integration of all of these capabilities into 1 system.

Contracts & Key Events

Unless otherwise noted, the Marine Corps Systems Command in Quantico, VA issued all contracts to Northrop Grumman’s Electronic Systems unit in Linthicum Heights, MD.

FY 2014

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Dec 4/13: Testing. Northrop Grumman announces that G/ATOR tests at MCAS Yuma have been successful, including support for 2 Weapons and Tactics Instruction (WTI) events. The firm says that the TPS-80 “detected and tracked targets that other systems at the exercise were not able to”, extracting targets from heavy clutter backgrounds and exceeding its objective-level (best case) availability requirements.

We’ll have to wait until early in 2014 to read the DOT&E’s report, but it sounds like the program is headed to Milestone C and Low-Rate Initial Production. Sources: Northrop Grumman, Dec 4/13 release.

Nov 6/13: Saltwater G/ATOR? Northrop Grumman announces an 18-month, $6 million study to explore replacement options for the US Navy’s AN/SPS-48 (all carriers, LHA/LHD amphibious air support, and LPD-17 amphibious ships) and AN/SPS-49 (all carriers, FFG-7 frigates, CG-47 cruisers, LHD amphibious air support, LSD-41/49 amphibious ships) air surveillance radars.

The Enterprise Air Surveillance Radar (EASR) Study’s terms of reference would modify an existing radar to act in this capacity, and Northrop Grumman states that they’ll be using their AN/TPS-80 G/ATOR. Existing FFG-7 frigates are too old and limited to be good upgrade candidates, and the CG-47 cruisers and LSD ships are currently in the middle of major modernizations. With that said, the pace of major ship maintenance periods still leaves the USN with a number of options if they decide that this is a good idea. EASR is sponsored by the Office of Naval Research under its Integrated Topside program. Sources: NGC, Nov 6/13 release.

FY 2010 – 2013

System development extended; Testing begins; Increment II begins.

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Sept 11/13: GaN. A $10.8 million cost-plus-fixed-fee contract modification will raise the EMD Phase cost ceiling, in order to fund G/ATOR’s transition to Gallium Nitride electronics. GaN improves the radar’s performance, which allows the Marines to either push it harder or throttle back the generator. Fueling generators adds to both logistics burdens and operational risk, and even with full fuel, G/ATOR was falling short at higher altitudes that sap its generator’s power. GaN electronics offers full performance at just 50 kW, instead of the generator’s sea-level limit of 60 kW. Since higher altitude equals a wider field of view, the difference matters on the battlefield.

The G/ATOR program has always known about this difference, but it chose to wait until the underlying electronics were more proven, and the industrial infrastructure made it a low-risk switch. Time has delivered both changes, and development financing from the 3DELRR program (q.v. Aug 26/13) appears to have bridged the last technical gaps within the TPS-80 design.

Work will be performed in Linthicum Heights, MD, and is expected to be complete by Dec 31/14. This contract wasn’t competitively procured, as it’s within the scope of the current contract and its changes clause (M67854-07-C-2072, PO 0115).

GaN transition

Aug 26/13: 3DELRR. Northrop Grumman announces that they completed their 3DELRR radar demonstration back in July. They refer to it as “The U.S. Air Force system variant of the Department of Defense AN/TPS-80 radar…” but unlike the USMC’s current G/ATORs, this S-band radar uses Gallium Nitride transmit/receive modules. That technology is in the USMC’s plans, and the development work may pay off for the Marines, just as all the work on the USMC’s TPS-80 G/ATOR would offer dividends to the USAF.

As one might expect, given their design’s lineage, Northrop Grumman also touts “successful system ambient air cooling under extremely hot operating conditions,” as well as the radar’s well-developed system self-test and calibration capabilities. Sources: Northrop Grumman Aug 26/13 release.

June 28/13: More SDD. Northrop Grumman Electronic Systems in Linthicum Heights, MD receives a $24.5 million cost-plus-incentive-fee, firm-fixed-price contract modification that increases the G/ATOR EMD phase’s estimated ceiling cost.

These price hikes parcel out as $21.1 million for development using FY 2013 funds, with $13.6 million committed immediately. EMD work will be performed Linthicum Heights, MD (88%); Yuma, AZ (10%); and Syracuse, NY (2%), and is expected to be complete by April 25/14.

The added $3.4 million for extra production engineering support uses FY 2012 funds, with all funds committed immediately. Work will be performed in Linthicum Heights, MD (81%), and Syracuse, NY (19%), and is expected to be complete by Feb 16/14.

This brings announced EMD contracts to around $533.7 million, but the GAO’s August 2012 figures already had G/ATOR development spending pegged at $539.5 million of a planned $893.1 million. The gap is easily explained, as announcements only cover contracts above a certain threshold. Note that the original baseline for G/ATOR development was $364.3 million in $FY13 (M67854-07-C-2072).

May 24/13: SAR. The Pentagon finally releases its Dec 31/12 Selected Acquisitions Report [PDF]. The news isn’t good for the G/ATOR program, which is shrinking sharply, again, even as the number of Marines has risen. G/ATOR numbers have now shrunk by about 30% since the program’s inception:

“Ground/Air Task Oriented Radar (G/ATOR) – Program costs decreased $912.1 million (-27.4%) from $3,325.9 million to $2,413.8 million, due primarily to a decrease in quantity of 12 systems from 57 to 45 systems (-$464.0 million) and associated estimating allocation (+$0.9 million) and a revised cost estimate for anticipated production efficiencies associated with funded design investments (-$447.0 million). Other decreases were attributable to a reduction in support costs (-$52.2 million) and initial spares requirements (-$12.9 million) resulting from investment in efficiencies and economic order discounts. These decreases were partially offset by increases to the cost estimates for investments in the production efficiency initiative (+$33.3 million) and technology refresh assumptions and associated potential future change orders (+$18.8 million), and the application of revised escalation indices (+$27.5 million).”

SAR – another radar cut

April 15/13: Budget. The FY14 request submitted by the Navy barely changes from the previous year’s budget, at $78.2 million. FY16 also remains stable, but FY15 and FY17 are lower by $19 million and $26 million respectively. Air Defense/Air Radar AD/SR Capability System Demonstration (DT)(1B) and Operational Assessment (OA) are extended by 2 quarters, while LRIP and Milestone C both slip by 1 quarter. Milestones further out in the plan (IOT&E, IOC, FRP decision) are supposed to be unaffected by these changes earlier in the schedule. US Navy PE 0204460M [PDF].

March 28/13: GAO Report. The US GAO tables its “Assessments of Selected Weapon Programs“. Which is actually a review for 2012, plus time to compile and publish. G/ATOR appears for the 1st time, and the overall report is good.

GAO acknowledges that performance requirements for G/ATOR have grown from 5 key performance parameters in 2005, to 16 in 2012. Program officials describe this as a “clarification,” but there’s no question that KPP expansion creates more development work. This explains some, but not all, of the program 145% RDT&E jump since the 2005 baseline. Overall program cost is up 101.2%, to $3.034 billion as of June 2012, despite a drop from 64 to 57 radars.

On the bright side, things have been much more stable since the program was re-baselined in January 2010. All 6 critical TPS-80 technologies are approaching full maturity, with 100% of design drawings released, using GaAS (Gallium Arsenide) electronics. The GAO gives no specific timeline for incorporation of better GaN (Gallium Nitride) electronics, but does say the program could save as much as $500 million from the change, while reducing weight and power demand.

Dec 21/12: More SDD. An $8.6 million cost-plus-incentive-fee contract modification to increase G/ATOR’s estimated EMD (same as SDD) phase cost ceiling, in light of an expected cost overrun. $2.1 million is committed immediately.

Work will be performed in Linthicum Heights, MD (75%) and Syracuse, NY (11%); Wallop’s Island, VA (11%) and Yuma, AZ (3%); and is expected to be complete April 25/14 (M67854-07-C-2072).

July 26/12: Testing. Northrop Grumman Corporation’s initial AN/TPS-80 G/ATOR Increment 1 system has been delivered to Surface Combat Systems Center (SCSC) Wallops Island in Eastern Virginia for G/ATOR’s 1st and 2nd phases of developmental testing. Yuma, AZ will host the 3rd and final DT phase, and operational assessment. NGC.

June 6/12: Increment II. The USMC is asking Northrop Grumman’s Electronic Systems sector in Linthicum Heights, MD to begin developing G/ATOR’s Increment II Ground Weapons Locating Radar (GWLR) software, which will track incoming shells and rockets back to their point of origin. The amount of the contract has yet to be negotiated. Military Aerospace & Electronics.

Dec 7/11: More SDD. A $32.3 million contract modification for the continuation of GATOR Increment I, to support the changes made to the risk reduction change order.

Work will be performed in Linthicum Heights, MD (95%), and Syracuse, NY (5%), and is expected to be complete by Dec 31/13. This contract modification was not competitively procured, as the contract effort is within the scope of the current contract and is entered into pursuant to the changes clause (M67854-07-C-2072).

Nov 17/11: Northrop Grumman Corporation announces that its 1st Ground Based Radar Conference drew more than 90 attendees over 3 days, representing 10 nations. Besides the G/ATOR system, Northrop Grumman also sells AN/TPS-78 and AN/TPS-703 solid-state tactical mobile radar systems; and the Highly Adaptable Multi-Mission Radar (HAMMR) AESA radar for on-the-move, 360 degree coverage.

Feb 7/11: Testing. Northrop Grumman announces that they’ve integrated all subsystems of the AN/TPS-80 Ground / Air Task Oriented Radar (G/ATOR) system. This 1st complete system is currently undergoing system-level integration, performance, and live target testing at the company’s Electronic Systems sector engineering and manufacturing complex, located next to Baltimore’s Washington International Marshall Airport.

As noted above, G/ATOR’s subsystems include the Radar Equipment Group (REG, AESA antenna and all associated control and processing electronics) mounted on a lightweight tactical trailer, the Communications Equipment Group (CEG) and the Power Equipment Group (PEG).

1st complete G/ATOR I

Feb 4/11: More SDD. A $38.3 million cost-plus-incentive-fee contract modification, extending the GATOR Increment I development program. It will support the agreed-upon expansions to the original integrated performance baseline, and extend the contract’s period through April 30/12.

Work will be performed in a contractor facility at Linthicum Heights, MD (85%); and by Northrop Grumman’s subcontractor, Sensis Corp., located in Syracuse, NY (15%). Work is expected to be complete in April 2012 (M67854-07-C-2072).

April 5/10: Testing. Northrop Grumman Corporation announces the next system test phase.

This phase will use a fully populated G/ATOR array, complete with all transmit/receive modules, radiating elements, prime power and distribution, RF manifold, and associated control and processing electronics. This newest series of tests includes detailed verification that the G/ATOR’s active electronically scanned array (AESA) hardware will support all of the system’s multi-mission capabilities, and demonstration of all required AESA functions including beam generation, steering and control, performance at full rated power, operating bandwidth and automated array calibration techniques.

Testing of this array is taking place at the company’s antenna test facility in Norwalk, CT; in 2009, a prototype partial G/ATOR array was tested at the same facility, and expanded testing on that prototype radar array continues at NGC’s engineering and manufacturing complex in Baltimore. Once the 2nd, full array completes testing, it will be integrated with the other G/ATOR components for the next levels: full systems-level integration testing, and subsequent environmental testing.

January 2010: G/ATOR program is re-baselined due to cost and requirements growth. Source: GAO.


Dec 29/09: More SDD. A $35.5 million contract modification increases the estimated cost ceiling and target cost of CLIN0001, finalizing change orders to the configuration the G/ATOR’s new up-armored MTVR carrier trucks. It also covers the modification and implementation of the upgraded UPX-40 as the identification-friend-or-foe system, and a change of the IFF system from government furnished property to contractor-acquired government property.

Approximately 80% of the work will be performed by Northrop Grumman in Linthicum Heights, MD, and approximately 20% will be performed by Northrop Grumman’s subcontractor, Sensis Corp. in Syracuse, NY. The contract modification was not competitively procured, as the contract cost increase is within scope of the current contract and is entered into pursuant to the changes clause (M67854-07-C-2072).

Dec 10/09: Program support. General Dynamics Information Technology in Fairfax, VA received a $5.8 million task order under a firm-fixed-price contract. They’ll provide on-going technical, managerial and logistics support for Program Executive Office – Land Systems, Program Manager Ground/Air Task Oriented Radar (G/ATOR).

Emerging development efforts include engineering, architecture and logistical analysis of G/ATOR. Support requirements include supporting the G/ATOR Milestone C processes, and engineering and technical reviews (since Milestone B is complete). Additional support requirements include development and maintenance of programmatic information to be displayed in a G/ATOR Program Operations Center, information security, admin support, information assurance, joint interoperability, family of system definition/development and business analysis to define investment strategies, contract administration, planning programming and budgeting planning, logistics support, equipment specialist, earned value management system, program management plan support and cost/risk assessments. Due to in-sourcing, cost proposal and analysis efforts will not be required.

Support requirements include for the contractor to conduct/complete the logistics assessment of the manpower, personnel and training requirements and facilities analysis needed to support G/ATOR, the development of Manpower Training Integrated project team, to use as input and/or the development of the Manpower Personnel and Training plan. Work will be performed in Quantico, VA, and the contract will end in December 2010. The Marine Corps System Command in Quantico, VA manages the contract (M67854-02-A-9014, #0042).

Nov 16/09: More SDD. A $44.5 million modification under previously awarded cost-plus-incentive-fee contract. It increases the estimated cost ceiling for the G/ATOR’s SDD phase, target cost, and target cost plus target fee of contract line item number 0001 by $17.5 million to reflect “undefinitized change orders for the UPX40,” which is an identification friend-or-foe (IFF) system. Work will be performed in Linthicum Heights, MD (75%), and Syracuse, NY (25%), and is expected to be complete on Sept 15/11. Contract funds will expire at the end of the current fiscal year.

That alternation also confirms a change in G/ATOR’s intended towing vehicle, from Humvee jeeps to up-armored MTVR medium trucks. Experiences in Iraq caused the Marines to re-think their intended use of Humvees, and their MTVR trucks with TAK-4 suspension for all-terrain mobility were the natural next step up. The change would improve the radar’s mobility and survivability, at the cost of added weight and limited helicopter portability. The radar module itself will remain helicopter-portable, but its accompanying vehicle will not be – unless the USMC decides to mount G/ATOR on a modified M-ATV MRAP, or future vehicles like the JLTV Category C.

Another contract modification increases the estimated cost ceiling, target cost and target cost plus target fee of contract line item number 0001 by an additional $27 million, to reflect the estimated cost increase associated with the 9-month schedule extension (M67854-07-C-2072).

New vehicle platform

Oct 6/09: More SDD. A $14 million modification under a previously awarded contract to increase the estimated cost ceiling for G/ATOR system development and demonstration to reflect its anticipated cost overrun. The contract modification was not competitively procured, as the cost overrun is within scope of the current contract, and is entered into pursuant to the changes clause. Discussions with US MARSYSCOM indicate that this increase is cumulative with the March 2009 ceiling increase.

Work will be performed in Linthicum Heights, MD (75%) and Syracuse, NY (25%), and is expected to be complete in September 2011. Contract funds will expire at the end of the current fiscal year (M67854-07-C-2072).

Oct 5/09: Testing. Northrop Grumman announces that a prototype G/ATOR partial array antenna has completed successful testing at a company antenna test range in Norwalk, CT. The partial array is now being integrated with additional radar subsystems for follow-on testing at Northrop Grumman’s Electronic Systems sector headquarters in Baltimore, MD. Meanwhile, a 2nd G/ATOR AESA is scheduled for testing at the Norwalk, CT test facility later in 2009.

The G/ATOR AESA array can be thought of as “networked mini-radars,” so meeting all test objectives with a partial array that includes transmit/receive functionality, hardware and software communications, array tuning, and calibration techniques gives Northrop Grumman a high degree of confidence that the first fully populated array (currently under integration/test) will likewise be a success. Northrop Grumman representatives told DID that some test objectives were exceeded, and all were met. They added that their goal was, and is, to field a test radar that is as close to Full Rate Production versions as possible, using the same people and processes.

FY 2006 – 2009

SDD re-award, after initial award canceled; Additional funds and cost overruns, incl. early finding for interaction design.

G/ATOR concept
(click to view full)

March 3/09: More SDD. A maximum $40.5 million contract modification reflect the anticipated cost overrun associated with completion of the G/ATOR’s SDD phase. The contract modification was not competitively procured, as the cost overrun is designated as being within the scope of the current contract.

Northrop Grumman estimated an additional $36 million to complete the SDD phase, of which the Government is immediately funding $16.8 million to support contract requirements for completing the Critical Design Review (CDR) scheduled from March to mid-April 2009. In addition, the contract modification increases the contract value by $4.5 million for engineering services and support over the life of the contract through June 2012. Those engineering services will be requested on an as-needed basis, and the Government has begun by requesting $238,695.

Work will be performed by Northrop Grumman Corp., in Linthicum Heights, MD (69%), and by Northrop Grumman’s subcontract, Sensis in Syracuse, NY (31%). Of the total funds obligated with this contract modification so far, $120,215 will expire at the end of the current fiscal year (M67854-07-C-2072, P00024).

Dec 19/08: Sub-contractors. A $6.4 million modification to a previously awarded contract for Human Systems Integration (HSI) work, to be completed by June 2012. Work will be performed by Northrop Grumman Corporation in Linthicum Heights, MD (69%), and by their subcontractor Sensis, in Syracuse, NY (31%). The modification was not competitively procured, sine it’s classified as an engineering change within scope of the current contract (M67854-07-C-2072):

“The contractor shall develop and implement a plan to effectively apply HSI principles during G/ATOR design, production and integration. The contractor shall ensure Human Factors Engineering, Manpower, Personnel, Training, System Safety, Environment, Safety, and Occupational Health (ESOH), and Personnel Survivability requirements are incorporated into the layout, design, and arrangement of equipment having an operator or maintainer interface.”

As technology companies in Silicon Valley and beyond are beginning to realize, serious interaction design generally needs to begin earlier in the process. This is an improvement over the frequent practice of saving HSI for last, when it’s very difficult to change anything no matter what the findings show.

June 26/08: PDR. Northrop Grumman announces that G/ATOR has completed its 3 1/2 day Preliminary Design Review (PDR) at Northrop Grumman Corporation’s Electronic Systems sector headquarters, granting approval to proceed to critical design. The PDR involved an extensive U.S. government review and subsequent approval of the G/ATOR system and subsystem design for both hardware and software, including a program management review of cost and schedule.

The PDR was attended by more than 70 Marine Corps, Navy, Army, and other Department of Defense officials and civilian subject matter experts. NGC release.


June 17/08: More SDD. A $28.2 million modification to a previously awarded cost-plus-incentive-fee contract to extend the schedule by 8 1/2 months and increase the level of effort for G/ATOR system development and demonstration.

At this time, no additional funds are being committed, but the option is there if additional support and engineering effort is needed. Work will be performed in Linthicum Heights, MD (75%) and East Syracuse, NY (25%) and is expected to be complete December 2016 if all options are exercised (M67854-07-C-2072).

March 10/08: Sub-contractors. Curtiss-Wright Corporation announces a contract from Northrop Grumman to provide their new VPX boards and subsystems, high density digital signal processing products and optimized software tools.. The result will be a rugged air-flow-through radar processing subsystem using open architecture-based standards and software.

The initial $4.3 million contract is for development, which is expected to be complete in 2010. This subsystem will be designed and manufactured at Curtiss-Wright’s motion control facility in San Diego, CA, and will include products from its Leesburg, VA and Ottawa, Canada locations. The production phase of the G/ATOR program will be executed as an option under the current contract, and is planned to start in 2010.

Feb 27/08: No fries, chips. A $10.7 million modification to previously awarded cost-plus-incentive-fee contract for design and development of a new Serial Rapid I/O processor for the G/ATOR. Work will be performed in Linthicum Heights, MD (75%) and East Syracuse, NY (25%), and is expected to be complete March 2011 (M67854-07-C-2072).

Sept 6/07: SRR. Northrop Grumman Corporation and the U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) successfully reviewed and agreed upon 768 G/ATOR contractual design requirements during the recent System Requirements Review (SRR) held at Northrop Grumman’s Electronic Systems sector headquarters in Baltimore, MD. NGC release.

March 30/07: Northrop Grumman wins again, with a $256.6 million cost-plus-incentive-fee contract for System Development and Demonstration of the USMC’s Ground/Air Task Oriented Radar (G/ATOR), Increment I. The contract includes a Radar Environmental Simulator (RES); alternative generator; the G/ATOR Technical Data Package; Model Driven Architecture Models; interim contractor logistics support; and performance based logistics; Other direct costs and travel; and engineering services and support.

The Pentagon DefenseLINK’s announcement also cites production of 2 G/ATOR Low Rate Initial Production (LRIP) systems, and 13 full-rate production (FRP) G/ATOR systems. Northrop Grumman’s release cites 2 LRIP and 15 FRP systems. A 2012 change revised that to just 8 LRIP systems.

Work will be performed in Linthicum Heights, MD (75%) and East Syracuse, NY (25%) and is expected to be complete in March 2016, if all options are exercised. This contract is a result of a full and open competition solicitation available to industry via the Navy Electronic Commerce Office, with 5 offers received (M67854-07-C-2072).

Main System Development

Sept 16/05: Initial SDD. A $7.95 million cost-plus-incentive-fee contract for the Ground/Air Task Oriented Radar (G/ATOR) Increment I system development and demonstration. Work will be performed in Linthicum Heights, MD (75%) and East Syracuse, NY (25%) and is expected to be complete September 2009. The award is a result of a full and open competition solicitation that was available via the Internet, with 5 offers received (M67854-05-C-2000).

Northrop Grumman’s Sept 22/05 release estimated the total value of the contract at $125 million over 4 years and 4 system capability increments. It doesn’t matter, because the award is protested, and the Navy decides to re-compete it.

Canceled SDD

Additional Readings & Sources

Background: AN/TPS-80 G/ATOR

DID thanks the personnel of Northrop Grumman for multiple interviews over the life of this article.

Northrop Grumman – Ground/Air Task Order Radar (G/ATOR)

US Marine Corps Systems Command, PEO Land Systems, via WayBack – Ground/Air Task Oriented Radar (G/ATOR)

USMC PEO Land Systems, via WayBack (2012) – Ground-Based Air Defense And Ground/Air Task-Oriented Radar [PDF]


News & Views

USNI Seapower Magazine, via WayBack (November 2010) – A Radar for All Missions. [PDF, via Northrop Grumman's site].

Sen. Charles Schumer, via WayBack (Dec 19/05) – Schumer, Clinton: Congressional Panel Backs $14.4 Million For Defense Projects To Benefit Central New York. G/ATOR is mentioned.

Military Aerospace Electronics, via WayBack (Sept 19/05) – Marine Corps chooses Northrop Grumman for new battlefield radar system


Related Systems

DID – USA Developing New 3DELRR Long-Range Ground Radar. Northrop Grumman believes that a scaled-up version of G/ATOR would fit, and intends to offer it.

Northrop Grumman – AN/APG-81 AESA Radar. Its technical design contributed to Northrop Grumman’s G/ATOR solution.

DID – US Army Adding TPQ-53 Counterfire Radars, ASAP. Originally developed to track incoming artillery and rockets, and locate their source. It stemmed from a 2002 research effort whose scope was similar to G/ATOR’s, and the Army is now talking about extending its capabilities to include air defense. Other extensions may follow.

US Marine Corps (July 3/07) – New radar system brings the fight back to terrorists. They’re talking about the 150 lb. Lightweight Counter-Mortar Radar deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. Its convenient, tactically-useful size means that it may continue to exist alongside the vehicle-mounted G/ATOR Increment III, despite have some function overlap.

DID (July 20/06) – Germany Orders New AESA Battlefield Radars. Cover the German BUR system, which will be mounted on blast-resistant Dingo 2 vehicles.

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