Raytheon Intelligence & Space’s PhantomStrike and Air Dominance

Compact AESA solution - CHIRP+Array
Two main components of the PhantomStrike system – an innovative digital receiver/exciter and processor, called CHIRP, and a GaN-powered array.

Interview by Jon Lake – Annabel Flores, chief operating officer for Global Spectrum Dominance at Raytheon Intelligence & Space, a Raytheon Technologies business, told Asian Military Review about the range of offerings the company has that are intended to help the United States and its allies achieve and maintain air dominance during conflict. This is a real challenge in the face of new threats and an ever more contested environment.

In recent years, the U.S. has shifted its strategic emphasis from low-intensity conflicts to facing a renewed threat from peer- and near peer adversaries. These adversaries have been investing in new capabilities and technologies for the peer-level fight, in some cases eroding what had been a U.S. qualitative military edge, and, in some areas, even threatening U.S. dominance.

In an era of increasingly austere defence budgets, providing air dominance cannot be a simple matter of procuring the latest exquisite technologies in sufficient quantities to re-equip the entire force. Instead, existing systems must be upgraded, using incremental investment to add new capabilities, even as the U.S. Air Force continues to look at aircraft that will comprise the sixth generation and beyond.

“It really is about taking existing fourth generation and fifth generation aircraft that have been doing very well for us, and for our different partner nations across the world, give them added capability within that limited budget,” Flores said. “It’s not about the wholesale adoption of new platforms and completely new solutions – that’s not affordable. And that’s also not possible within the timeframe that our warfighters need. Our pilots need solutions now.”

Agility is an important consideration for Raytheon Intelligence & Space, which is committed to bringing better solutions to the warfighters faster, with lower risk, and at lower cost. One of the keys to this kind of agility is using open-systems architecture, which enables and facilitates upgrades and the rapid iteration of new and improved capabilities.

RI&S, and legacy Raytheon, has a history spanning 80+ years working in radars with over 1,000 radars delivered and over 1 million flight hours. The AN/APG-63(V)2 added an Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) to the mechanically scanned APG-63(V)1 for 18 US Air Force F-15C aircraft and was followed by the modernised APG-63(V)3 for USAF F-15s, Singaporean F-15SGs and Saudi F-15SAs.

The company’s APG-79 equips the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet (and some upgraded older models). It is also the basis of the radar used for the Boeing B-52 upgrade. The latest iteration is the scaled version known as the APG-79(V)4 which implements Gallium Nitride, or GaN, technology. This technology insertion allows aircrews to see further and clearer. The U.S. Marine Corps selected the RI&S APG-79(V)4 to upgrade their Hornet fleets. While the APG-82 equips upgraded F-15Es and F-15Js, and later decided to use the newest APG-82 variant in the USAF’s new F-15QA and F-15EX.

RI&S is now actively promoting a new option for the AESA retrofit market in the shape of the PhantomStrike radar.

Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA)
Providing powerful AESA radar capabilities to a variety of platforms, including light attack fighters, unmanned aerial vehicles and rotary-wing aircrafts.

The new radar draws on RI&S’ work on previous AESA programmes including the GaN technology, similar to the GaN used in the Patriot surface-to-air missile system.

PhantomStrike is a compact, AESA radar with low size, weight and power (SWaP), and is designed to be integrated onto a wide range of platforms, including light-attack aircraft, rotary wing aircraft, unmanned aerial vehicles, and ground-based towers to provide long-range threat detection and tracking.

“We didn’t start with our existing radars, which are exquisite, very capable radars. They’re large, power-hungry radars and are also liquid-cooled, which puts a heavier burden on the aircraft, and on the aircraft modifications,” explained Flores. “We didn’t want to carry those burdens over to a smaller system. And so, by looking at the problem differently, by setting aside those existing systems, we came up with a really different way of using our GaN MMICs (monolithic-microwave integrated circuits), and leveraging other capabilities that we have, both in terms of algorithms and back-end processing.

“We are disrupting ourselves in a lot of ways, but I think that’s how we’ve managed to stay at the forefront of radar technology,” Flores said.

Raytheon Intelligence & Space claims that PhantomStrike delivers the heavyweight performance needed to ensure superior battlespace situational awareness at a fraction of the cost of traditional radar systems. It has achieved this by harnessing the power of GaN semiconductors, with an innovative packaging of its digital receiver/exciter and processor known as CHIRP, and a first-of-its-kind air-cooled and energy-efficient design.

This gives what is claimed to be the lightest form factor ever for a fighter fire-control radar, less than 150 pounds or 80% lighter than modern AESA radars, but also using 65% of the power, and costing 50% less than fourth generation AESA radars.

The radar offers all the capabilities associated with AESA radar, with simultaneous multi-mode functionality and interleaved ground and air targeting, and with digital beam forming and steering, but it does so in a package affordable enough to be considered for legacy fighters, light-attack aircraft, trainers, and even attritable unmanned platforms like ‘Loyal Wingmen’ or collaborative combat aircraft.

As well as being affordable, the system is also scalable to suit a range of platform sizes, and Raytheon Intelligence & Space says that there are three differently sized variants of the radar: a smaller-sized radar that could fit onto UAVs, FA-50s and F-5s; a medium size that could fit aircraft like the T-7; and a larger size that would fit an aircraft about the size of an F-16. RI&S has conducted fit checks with both radars, the smaller array fitting an F-5, and offering a range equal to an F-16 radar. And, thanks to its open mission systems architecture design, PhantomStrike will be easily upgraded in the future, ensuring its battlespace relevance for years to come.

PhantomStrike was developed with the international market very much in mind, and it will be available by direct commercial sale. Raytheon Intelligence & Space says there will even be opportunities for 80-85% of PhantomStrike content to be manufactured outside the U.S.

PhantomStrike is just one of the elements in Raytheon Intelligence & Space’s broader air dominance portfolio, but one that offers improved capability to fourth- and fifth-generation aircraft promising to help them to maintain air dominance for their pilots.

PhantomStrike is a piece of the puzzle from a broader system-level capability to meet broader mission needs,” Flores said. “We have our RDAS and eJPALS, we have electronic warfare systems, electronic attack and mission computing – and these can also go on fourth-generation aircraft. You can put all these capabilities together with that same mindset of upgrading fourth-generation aircraft, making them much more capable. And we really think this will help get warfighters home safely, which is why we do what we do.”

by Jon Lake