Raytheon Technologies is redefining the radar with what’s known as the “software-defined aperture,” making single arrays radars far more capable and flexible through secure software upgrades. The Flexible Distributed Array Radar, or FlexDAR, combines digital beam forming, network coordination and precise time synchronization to perform multiple missions - including surveillance, communications and electronic warfare - at the same time, with a single array. It can scan the sky for drones. It can follow incoming ballistic missiles – even those flying at hypersonic speeds. It can talk to other sensors. It can cue a response to a threat. And it can do all that at the same time with a single array. This digital transformation in radar development offers benefits in every domain – land, sea, air, space and cyberspace.
Leading the effort is Raytheon Missile & Defense’s Advanced Technology group, an elite team of scientists who are pushing ahead in areas including multi-mission sensors, microelectronics and directed energy.
Colin Whelan, Vice President of Advanced Technology at Raytheon Missiles & Defense, said that it’s so much more than a traditional radar. Think of all the intelligent things a camera aperture is now able to do on the cheapest of smartphones. He said that it is only limited by the visible light spectrum and the software.
Like smartphones, software-defined apertures perform multiple tasks at once. Only they’re doing much more computer-intensive work than playing music or running a video chat.
Just as those phones and their apps benefit from regular software updates, Raytheon Technologies’ software-defined apertures get smarter every day through cyber-hardened software upgrades. This goes well beyond security patches. Operators can literally wake up to new capabilities that are ready for deployment.
Testing is already underway on the company’s first experimental sensor. The Office of Naval Research has installed the Flexible Distributed Array Radar, or FlexDAR, at the NASA Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.
FlexDAR is a digital testbed that has two advanced phased array radars equipped with digital beam forming, communications and network-linked, distributed radar tracking. It will be used to test new capabilities that will eventually be deployed on other radars built by Raytheon Missiles & Defense.
Whelan said that FlexDAR is a new apex in phased array radar system development and it will improve military communications and deliver on Raytheon’s vision for a multi-mission radar.
Self-aware in any environment
Intelligent sensors like FlexDAR adapt as the battlespace evolves. They collect data on the physical, electromagnetic and environmental conditions around them, and can adapt to changing environments without operator intervention.
Wes Kremer, president of Raytheon Missiles & Defense said that they’re using 21st-century innovations to deliver advanced, secure sensors to customers faster than ever before. He said that the days of hardware-limited and single-use radars are long gone and they are looking to employ this kind of capability across the business.
Next-gen GaN for power and speed
Software-defined apertures need power and efficiency – and lots of it. That’s what makes Raytheon’s military-grade foundry for gallium nitride a discriminator. Also called GaN, it offers maximum power in a small package, and it’s the backbone of their most advanced sensors.
Whelan said that they create the building blocks of every chip and write reusable code that gives their systems an advantage on land, at sea and overhead.
The company was among the first to mature and infuse GaN tech into U.S. Department of Defense systems. Now, it is delivering the next generation of GaN that will provide even better performance and reliability in compact radar circuits.
Whelan further added that they’re leveraging their decades of experience to perfect every facet of sensor manufacturing and deliver a product that is ready on day one – and even more powerful decades later.