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Marines' Multipurpose Radar Forges Forward

September 21, 2010
By Rita Boland, SIGNAL Online Exclusive
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The U.S. Marine Corps now has its first fully assembled Ground/Air Task Oriented Radar (G/ATOR) system and is working to overcome past difficulties to put the asset in warfighters' hands. Plans to upgrade multiple radar capabilities with the single system hit some snags over the past few years, but developers are back on track after finding solutions to the problems.

Threats caused by improvised explosive devices in combat areas necessitated the placement of additional armor on the high-mobility, multipurpose wheeled vehicles (HMMWVs) planned to tow the systems. This change made the vehicles too heavy to pull G/ATOR on the battlefield. The Corps responded by making adjustments to equipment to move development forward again.

Instead of loading G/ATOR onto equipment towed by a single HMMWV, troops will divide the system up and transport it behind a HMMWV and a 7-ton truck. The difference required a redistribution of various components, including the radar array itself. This restructuring caused the program to fall approximately four years behind, delaying the date of initial operational capability from 2012 to 2016. However, says Lee Bond, program manager for G/ATOR at the Marine Corps' Program Executive Office Land Systems, "it was the best thing to do for the vehicles and the troops."

The alteration also pushed back final delivery dates; the Marine Corps expects to have acquired all the systems it plans to purchase between 2022 and 2026 instead of by 2020. Before G/ATOR heads out to the field, the Marine Corps and its contractor partner Northrop Grumman will review it for two years to ensure proper functioning in harsh environments.

In addition, the Marines now will acquire only 69 G/ATORs instead of the previously planned 81. Bond explains that the difference results from a re-examination of force structure by Corps leadership. As operations in the Middle East begin to wind down, the force will become smaller. Marines also have found great efficiencies in their missions. Taken together, these changes reduce the number of systems required. "We have a Corps that can do just as much, but that doesn't need as many radars to do it," Bond says.

An advantage of the delay is the ability to incorporate more modern technology into the radar. The system is inherently flexible and adaptable in design, allowing developers to modify as necessary for technological advances. Program officials work with the vendor base to ensure that updates are backward compatible.

G/ATOR also is scalable, a feature that makes it particularly apt for other U.S. military branches that recently have shown interest in the system. According to Bond, both the Army and the Air Force have evaluated their legacy radar systems in the last five years and recognized a need for new ones. The two service branches picked up on the Marines' idea of finding one multipurpose radar to replace several aging systems. If those services determine that G/ATOR is right for their needs, it could benefit all the purchasers by creating an economy of scale that will reduce costs.

Though the Army needs to manage the command and control of fewer aircraft than the Marine Corps, and the Air Force needs to monitor a range of aircraft as well as ballistic missile threats, the scalability of G/ATOR makes it applicable to both. Bond says the Army could use "G/ATOR light" and the Air Force "G/ATOR heavy" to fulfill their varying requirements.

[Editor's Note: The public can see the first G/ATOR system during Modern Day Marine, September 28-30 at Marine Corps Base Quantico. To learn more about G/ATOR read SIGNAL's “Marines Take a Chomp Out of Multiple Radars.”]