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Raytheon passes major Navy destroyer radar milestone

The U.S. Navy is evaluating next-gen radar technology from three major military contractors. Raytheon says its Gallium Nitride tech has surpassed 1,000 hours of testing without problems, a crucial step.

Raytheon said today that its Gallium Nitride-based radar technology passed a major milestone in its bid to win a multi-billion dollar Navy contract. Raytheon

Raytheon this morning said that it has passed a major milestone in its bid to win a multi-billion dollar U.S. Navy radar contract.

The Tewksbury, Massachusetts military contract is currently competing against Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman for the lucrative contract to provide next-generation Air and Missile Defense Radar (AMDR) technology for the Navy's Arleigh Burke-class destroyers. As part of its efforts to win the deal, Raytheon has just surpassed 1,000 hours of degradation-free testing on its Gallium Nitride transmit/receive modules. Completing the 1,000 hours of testing, during which the modules were said to have shown "consistent power output across multiple channels," the company said in a release, was a major self-imposed milestone.

In an interview with CNET, Raytheon director of above water sensors Dennis Donohue said that the Navy has been relying on current generation Aegis radar technology for as much as 40 years, and that the next-generation technology, which will be based on phased-array radars that are smaller and more flexible than legacy systems, will likely be in place for another 30 or 40 years given the years of development that will go into the Navy's final choice prior to deployment.

Donohue said that the Navy will likely winnow the group of three competitors down to one by late 2012, and that the final decision will be made in time for first deployment by 2016. He also said that the first operational deployed combination of the new radar system and the destroyer on which it will be installed will be around 2020.

The Navy's requirements for the new suite include S-band radar, X-band radar, and a radar suite controller. According to Donohue, the S-band technology provides the capability for scanning very large volumes of space for potential incoming ballistic missile threats, while the X-band technology provides the accuracy required for defense against such threats.

The final radar suite will be comprised of four S-band, and three X-band radars, Donohue said, allowing 360-degree coverage from a destroyer.

For Raytheon, achieving the 1,000-hour milestone was crucial in demonstrating that Gallium Nitride can be just the upgrade from current-gen Gallium Arsenic-based radar systems that it feels the Navy needs. Raytheon is basing its entrant in the competition on the idea that Gallium Nitride is far more powerful than Gallium Arsenic. And Donohue said that he doesn't think Raytheon's rivals for the contract are employing Gallium Nitride in their offerings.

Still, while he touted the breadth of Raytheon's radar experience and technology, Donohue suggested that the company may be at a disadvantage against Lockheed, which he said has been providing the bulk of destroyer radar technology for many years. But he said Raytheon's submission should stand out based on the military contractor's "whole system approach" to defending against so-called "air breathing weapons," or air-to-air ballistic missiles. That approach includes a wide range of radar and weapon technology.

For now, Raytheon and its competitors will continue to strive for new milestones, and the ability to demonstrate to the Navy that their technology and pricing make them the right choice. Donohue explained that given current economic realities, cost will very likely be a major consideration for the Navy. Raytheon, he said, is working "very hard to drive down our costs....We're going to present a very strong affordability equation."

Correction (Tuesday, 1:42 p.m. PDT): This article originally misstated how many competitors for the Navy contract would still be under consideration at the end of 2012.