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Elevating Maritime Security: The Future of Software-Defined Surface-Search Radar for Surface Warships

In an era where global security relies on staying one step ahead of ever-evolving threats, the maritime domain poses unique challenges. Surface warships are tasked with ensuring safe navigation, safeguarding maritime boundaries, and countering a myriad of potential dangers. To tackle these challenges head-on, a revolutionary shift is underway: the development of software-defined surface-search radar systems. These cutting-edge technologies promise to elevate maritime security by combining advanced digital architectures with unprecedented adaptability.

Existing Naval AN/SPS-67, AN/SPS-73, and BridgeMaster E series Radars

  • AN/SPS-67: The AN/SPS-67 is a short-range, two-dimensional, surface-search and navigation radar system that provides surface and limited low-flyer detection and tracking.   It is a two-dimensional, pulse radar that operates in the X-band (8-12 GHz). It uses a rotating antenna to scan the horizon, and it can detect targets up to 12 nautical miles away. The AN/SPS-67 is used on a variety of ships, including destroyers, cruisers, and amphibious assault ships.
  • AN/SPS-73: The AN/SPS-73 is a similar radar to the AN/SPS-67, but it has a few additional features. It can detect targets up to 18 nautical miles away, and it can also track targets that are moving at high speeds.  It is also a two-dimensional, pulse radar that operates in the X-band (8-12 GHz). The AN/SPS-73 is also used on a variety of ships, including aircraft carriers, cruisers, and destroyers.
  • BridgeMaster E series: The BridgeMaster E series is a family of marine radars that are used for navigation and collision avoidance. They are all two-dimensional, short-range radars, but they offer a variety of features, including High-resolution images, Automatic target tracking, Identification friend or foe (IFF), Electronic charting, and Weather radar.
    The BridgeMaster E series is a family of marine radars that operate in the X-band (8-12 GHz). The specific frequency can be adjusted depending on the model. The BridgeMaster E series is used on a variety of commercial and military vessels, including ships, boats, and yachts.

The AN/SPS-73(V)12 is installed on about 100 Navy ships like aircraft carriers, cruisers, destroyers, amphibious assault ships, and support ships. It was placed into caretaker Status in 2017 in preparation for its replacement by the NGSSR. Thousands of BridgeMaster E marine radars, meanwhile, have been sold to more than 50 navies and coast guards worldwide as well as civilian customers. It replaced the Navy SPS-64 surface-search radar on Arleigh Burke-class destroyers in 2001.

The Challenge: Navigating the Complex Maritime Landscape

Modern maritime environments are no longer the serene expanses of the past. The proliferation of solid-state radar technology and the influx of maritime traffic, from commercial vessels to civilian pleasure craft, have created a sensor-rich yet chaotic space. Traditional radar systems, designed for simpler times, struggle to maintain their effectiveness in this complex environment.

The Navy’s aging AN/SPS-67 and AN/SPS-73 radars face a number of challenges in the modern threat environment. The modern threat landscape requires radar systems to detect smaller objects at longer ranges. The AN/SPS-67 and AN/SPS-73 radars, with their older technology, might struggle to provide the necessary range and resolution for detecting small boats, UAVs, and other potential threats.

With the rise of electronic warfare capabilities, adversaries can attempt to jam or disrupt radar signals. Aging radars might lack the necessary resilience and adaptability to counter such electronic warfare tactics effectively.

The Catalyst: Next Generation Surface Search Radar (NGSSR)

Enter the Next Generation Surface Search Radar (NGSSR), a game-changing technology that is poised to redefine maritime surveillance. Developed to address the limitations of existing radar systems like the AN/SPS-67, AN/SPS-73, and BridgeMaster E series, the NGSSR heralds a new era of maritime security.

Unveiling the Software-Defined Architecture

Software-defined surface-search radar (S-SSDR) is a type of radar that uses software to control its operation. This allows the radar to be more flexible and adaptable than traditional radars, which are typically hard-wired.

The Next Generation Surface Search Radar (NGSSR) is an S-SSDR that is being developed by the US Navy. The NGSSR is designed to replace the Navy’s aging AN/SPS-67 and AN/SPS-73 radars.

At the heart of the NGSSR’s transformative capabilities lies its software-defined architecture. Unlike traditional radars that rely on fixed hardware components, the NGSSR leverages digital technology to implement core functions through software. This groundbreaking approach offers unparalleled flexibility, enabling rapid adaptation to changing environments and threats. S-SSDRs can be used for a variety of applications, including surface search, navigation, and target tracking.

Unleashing the Potential: Exploring Software-Defined Radar Technology and Its Multifaceted Applications

Algorithmic Advancements

The NGSSR doesn’t stop at architecture alone. A suite of advanced algorithms empowers the radar system to extend, enhance, and optimize its performance. Here are some of the key features of S-SSDRs:

  • Software-defined architecture: The radar’s operation is controlled by software, which allows for more flexibility and adaptability.
  • Data Fusion and Machine Learning: To sift through the complex maritime environment, the NGSSR relies on data fusion techniques and machine learning algorithms. These technologies enable the radar to identify patterns, distinguish between legitimate and potential threats, and make informed decisions in real-time.
  • Digital signal processing: The radar uses digital signal processing to improve its performance.
  • Modular design: The radar is modular, which makes it easier to maintain and upgrade.
  • Open architecture: The radar’s architecture is open, which allows for third-party integration.

By analyzing data with unprecedented accuracy and speed, the NGSSR can detect and track a wide array of objects, ranging from UAVs to floating debris, in real time.

Resilience Against Modern Challenges

As the maritime threat environment evolves, the challenges faced by aging AN/SPS-67 and AN/SPS-73 radars become increasingly apparent. Limited range, adverse weather performance, vulnerability to electronic warfare, increased clutter – these are the obstacles that the NGSSR is designed to overcome.

  1. Extended Range and Precision: In a world where threats can emerge from afar, the NGSSR’s enhanced range and precision offer a distinct advantage. They will be capable of detecting unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), periscopes, floating debris, and floating mines, and even enhancing collision avoidance in congested waterways. The radar’s ability to detect and track smaller objects at longer distances redefines situational awareness, providing critical time for effective response.
  2. Weather Resilience: The NGSSR’s software-defined architecture is not deterred by adverse weather conditions. In rain, fog, or other challenging environments, its performance remains steadfast, ensuring that maritime operations continue without compromise.
  3. Electronic Warfare Resilience: With the rise of electronic warfare tactics, the NGSSR’s adaptability shines. Its software-based processing allows it to counter electronic warfare attempts effectively, maintaining functionality in the face of jamming or interference.
  4. Object Differentiation: The NGSSR’s advanced algorithms enable it to distinguish between various types of objects, reducing clutter and improving the accuracy of threat assessment. This ensures that genuine threats are identified promptly.
  5. Adaptation to Emerging Threats: By leveraging software-defined architecture, the NGSSR can be updated and enhanced to counter emerging threats. It remains a future-proof solution in a rapidly evolving maritime security landscape.

A Collaborative Endeavor

The significance of the NGSSR project is underscored by the substantial investment made by the U.S. Navy. A $23.9 million order was awarded to Ultra Electronics Ocean Systems, based in Braintree, Mass., for technical and field engineering. On this order Ultra Electronics Ocean Systems will do the work in Chantilly, Va.; Wake Forest, N.C.; and Braintree, Mass., and should be finished by May 2024. This partnership reflects a commitment to innovation and national security, propelling naval surveillance technology into the future.

A Secure Future on the Horizon

The development of software-defined surface-search radar systems marks a significant stride towards maritime security in the modern age. As threats evolve and maritime environments become increasingly intricate, the NGSSR promises to be a steadfast guardian of naval operations and global maritime safety.

In a rapidly changing world, innovation is our greatest asset. The NGSSR exemplifies the power of technology to reshape the future, ensuring that surface warships remain vigilant, adaptable, and effective in the face of dynamic challenges. As we step into this new era of maritime security, one thing is clear: the horizon has never been brighter.

For more insights into the world of military technology and security, stay connected with us. We invite you to Subscribe to IDST  for further information and updates on the NGSSR and other groundbreaking advancements in defense, security and technology

About Rajesh Uppal

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