Monday, May 8, 2017

Dual Band Radar Review

Before it passes into a mere historical footnote, let’s take a closer look at the once vaunted Dual Band Radar (DBR) that was to equip the Ford and Zumwalt classes.  The DBR combines an X-Band and S-Band radar in array panels versus the old style rotating radars. 

Let’s take a moment and recall what the old, mechanical, rotating radars were.  There were two main ones:

  • SPS-40/49 - Two dimensional (bearing and range), long range (256 nm), air search, L-band (851-942 MHz)

  • SPS-48 – Three dimensional (bearing, range, and height), long range (250 nm), air search, 7.5 – 15 rpm, mechanically rotated, electronically steered beams for elevation, 4500 lb, E & F-band (2-4 GHz)

There were also additional radars for navigation, air traffic control, fire control illumination, etc.

By comparison, the DBR consists of several flat panel arrays of two types:

  • SPY-3 – X-band (8-12 GHz), low altitude targeting and horizon search, target illumination and datalink for SM-2 and ESSM (2)

  • SPY-4 Volume Search Radar (VSR) – S-band, 3-face, long range search/track and cueing for the SPY-3 (2)

There is a great deal of overlap between the two systems, as described by Raytheon,

“Many search and track functions, such as cued acquisition and precision track (providing high update rate, fire control quality data) can be allocated to either or both frequencies, automatically or through command and control direction.” (2)

This provides a measure of redundancy and resilience to damage in combat.  Along the same lines, the presence of two overlapping radars allows the degrading effects of weather to be minimized by being able to switch between them as conditions warrant (2).

The system uses a total of six array faces, three for each band.  Each of the arrays covers 120 deg with three of them combining to provide 360 deg coverage.

The total DBR system is reported to cost $500M (1).

The DBR was originally intended to outfit the Zumwalt and Ford classes but will now only be installed on the first Ford carrier (3).  For Zumwalt, the SPY-4 has been deleted as a cost savings measure.  Deletion of the SPY-4 from the Zumwalt DBR will reportedly save $180M (1).

The Navy concluded, correctly, that a carrier just doesn’t need a radar system this capable since the carrier has no long range AAW missiles and would be unlikely to radiate in combat, depending instead on shared data pictures provided by Aegis escorts and E-2 Hawkeye aircraft.  This was acknowledged by RAdm. Thomas Moore, PEO Carriers, in an article presented by Defense News website,

“… analysis showed the carrier didn't need all the system's capabilities.” (3)

Related side note:  wouldn’t it have been nice (and logical) to perform the analysis prior to designing the carrier?  But, I digress …

DBR was slated to replace several different legacy radar systems that performed air traffic control, air search, navigation, and fire-control, etc.  This offers a potentially significant increase in efficiency and reduction in maintenance and personnel.  However, by combining the functions of several legacy radars into one system, a single point of multiple failures is created.  A single failure can potentially cost the ship its detection, tracking, targeting, navigation, air traffic control, and fire control functions.  That’s a steep price to pay for a single failure.  This is a case where efficiency is trumped by separation and redundancy, the foundations of survivability.  In other words, combat resilience trumps cost effectiveness.  This is yet another example of how trying to run a combat organization like a business is a flawed concept.

Another key aspect of the DBR system, just as with Aegis, is complexity and maintainability.  Aegis suffered from a fleet wide degradation serious enough to cause the Navy to form one of its infamous Admiral chaired panels.  I have seen no public documentation regarding the results of that remediation effort.  I do not know what state the Aegis system is in, today.  Having seen no grand pronouncements of success, I have to assume that the system still suffers from systemic degradation. 

DBR will be even more complex and common sense suggests that it, too, will suffer from maintenance and reliability problems.  Even worse, DBR is almost a one-of-a-kind system.  The Navy is highly unlikely to incur the cost of setting up technician schools and creating a technician training program adequate to maintain the system.  Similarly, the spare parts logistical train necessary to support the system is unlikely to be adequately established.  We saw exactly this phenomenon play out with the nearly one-of-a-kind Enterprise/Long Beach radar systems which suffered from a lack of trained technicians and support and were, in relatively short order, abandoned.

It is a near certainty that the Ford’s radar system will never work as intended and will, in relatively short order, be abandoned and replaced.

On a closely related side note, the complexity and support issues lead, inexorably, to the question, is it better to have a bleeding edge radar system that can’t be maintained and never achieves its intended performance or to have a more basic system (like a mechanical, rotating system) that is utterly reliable, can be maintained at sea, and provides its maximum performance at all times?

In any event, there are lessons to be learned from the DBR program. 

  • Carriers don’t need highly capable radar systems since they don’t have highly capable weapons that require highly capable radars

  • Carriers don’t radiate in combat;  instead, they rely on data links from other aircraft and ships so, again, they don’t need sophisticated radars

  • Performance analyses must be performed prior to ship design

  • One of a kind systems are not sustainable

  • Cost and operational efficiency do not trump combat effectiveness

The DBR is fated to pass into the footnotes of history but we would do well to learn its lessons before it does.


(1)USNI News website, “PEO Carriers: CVN-79 Will Have a New Radar, Save $180M Compared to Dual Band Radar”, Megan Eckstein, March 17, 2015,

(2)Raytheon website, What We Do > Products > Dual Band Radar,

(3)Defense News website, “Dual Band Radar Swapped Out In New Carriers”, Christopher P. Cavas, 17-Mar-2015,


  1. CNO,

    Another slam dunk!

    Now can you fix the anti-air cruiser issue?


    1. Thanks.

      You lost me. What anti-air cruiser issue are you referring to?

  2. You've said before only a war will provide the serious butt kicking needed to straighten things out. I agree.

    What worries me is that with the state of our industry and acquisition, when a war comes we won't have time to fix what's out there. The industrial capacity isn't there, and the designs we have are too complex. We'll fight with what we have.

    We go to war without good designs after we'll have wasted millions on stuff like the DB radar and AGS and not be able to replace losses of ships that are operating out of spec because they aren't maintained well.

    1. You're correct to be concerned about our military production capacity. Note, though, that our military production capacity was not all that great prior to WWII, either, but we managed to convert industries. Of course, now, we've lost much of our manufacturing facilities (shipyards are a notable example) so there's a lot less that can be converted. Still, we would convert to the extent we can. The other complicating factor is the complexity and sophistication of modern weapons versus WWII versions. That would make conversion and production much harder and longer. On the other hand, our production capabilities are much greater than during WWII with technologies such as CAD design, CnC machining, robotics, etc.

      We'll also find that war will have a way of drastically shortening our design, production, and test cycles.

      So, we'll find increased military production to be a challenge but not as daunting as you might initially imagine. Also, remember that other countries are in no better shape in that they each have their own set of challenges.

      Again, I remind you that it's easy to get a distorted sense of "doom" from reading this blog. You need to keep a balanced perspective and bear in mind the challenges that our enemies also face. Perhaps I need to make more of an effort to present that balance as well!

    2. I'm pretty sure we have just as much space that can be converted as we did in WW2, not that it really matters for modern production. WW2 production was largely by hand so it really didn't matter what a factory was, all you needed to covered open space. Modern manufacturing relying significantly on automation and converting from one product to the next esp from say car to aircraft would be incredibly difficult.

      As far as shipyards, I'd say we have plenty of facilities that can be converted to ship production if needed. The core of a shipyard is a dock and structure crane. We have facilities like that in spades called ports.

    3. CNO; good point about the problems other nations face. When I was in China (10 years or so ago) corruption was a major issue for their economy. If it still is, than that could be a cancer eating them that we do not see.

      Still, while I take your point about production, the WWII miracle isn't likely to happen now simply due to the fact that we no longer have the 'slack' in production capacity that we did entering '41. This is good in an economic sense (a manufacturer with an idle plant is a sick manufacturer). But it doesn't give us the 'ramp up' capability. Another major issue that I see is that we don't have the basic skilled trades being replaced as fast as needed. In an admittedly ad hoc example, a friend of mine who lives in Ohio was saying that the Lima tank plant was trying to hire; but had positions go vacant because they couldn't find the skilled trades.

      There is a website I read long ago that had an interesting write up on our production capacity from WWII:

      Basically, it suggests that so long as we desired to stay in the war, and had even a modicum of luck, there was no way Japan could beat us from a military/logistics point of view because we were building and manning things at a faster rate than they could sink them.

      Back to the original point, I think that the (re)creation of a general board might not only have a good instant effect, but it might also have the ability to look at current industrial capacity and current designs and try to strike a balance between what we *can* build, and what can be built robustly and easily. If we could strike a middle ground it would create a situation where we can play to our technological and productivity strengths when needed in time of war.

    4. Another consideration when it comes to American production is materials. We have plenty of oil and steel, but for electronics you often need rare earth metals. Unfortunately the US gets most of theirs from the very nation we would most likely to fight in the Pacific: China. Last year China mined 105,000 metric tons and the US mined none. The previous year we mined 4,100 tons but those mines have been shutting down due to foreign competition. Our ally Australia also produces Rare earths but most of their mining operations have been bought by companies guessed it, China.

    5. Without a doubt, we are not properly positioned to fight a strategic manufacturing war. It's something we should be addressing right now.

      Our military is cognizant of the strategic value of preserving shipyards, even at the cost of higher than "normal" construction costs, and yet we ignore our overall manufacturing in areas like raw materials, as you point out.

      We are at war with China and they are using every means at their disposal while we engage in denial of reality and appeasement.

      Trump has talked about bringing US manufacturing jobs home which would be a good first step. We'll see whether that happens or if it was just a campaign sound bite.

    6. Manufacturing is returning to the US, but it isn't bringing with it many jobs. Most manufacturing is switching to increasing automation and is one of the reasons that China is very concerned that the majority of their manufacturing sector will disappear. You are starting to see some manufacturing return to the US because machines are simply cheaper than cheap chinese labor and shipping.

      Basically, modern manufacturing is not a large labor employer and likely won't ever be one again.

    7. It depends on what you mean by 'large'. Will it be like the 70's? No. But it will still employ a lot of people, and generally pay them well. Even if GM has a 70% reduction in manufacturing jobs, but productivity increases, those jobs will still be important. And the more we can increase productivity the more manufacturing jobs we can attract back home. There's more to it, obviously. But that is a key component.

      Manufacturing is a key strategic industry. High tech manufacturing even more so. We should encourage it as much as possible, IMHO.

      I'd love to find a way to get more manufacturing prowess in shipyards here; but I don't understand the industry enough to figure out ways to do it other than outright subsidies to offset cost. And those are frought with problems themselves.

    8. Remember, as a generalized statement, for every job lost to automation, another job is gained supporting that automation. Automation requires programmers, engineers, electronics techs, mechanics to keep the robots operating, etc. Same number of jobs, just different. I've seen exactly that scenario play out in industry, repeatedly. Industry automates, thinking they'll cut jobs and costs, but find out that they need more workers who are higher skilled and cost more! Product quality and (sometimes) throughput improve but not costs or labor requirements.

      This is a generalized statement. I'm sure you can find some example, somewhere, where jobs were actually lost on a net basis.

    9. Fair point.

      It would be better to say the jobs will change. What required a riveter or a paint sprayer before will require a technician, code specialist and pipefitter now.

    10. I have a personal theory about jobs that's an adaptation of the old adage, Matter Can Be Neither Created Nor Destroyed, It Merely Changes Form. As technology changes, jobs are neither created nor destroyed, they just change their functions.

    11. Consider the "shining" example of the LCS. You'll recall that the LCS was touted as being heavily automated and requiring a quarter or third of a similar, older ship. However, once we account for the specialized shore-side technicians and whatnot, we realize that for all the automation the LCS has (and it has a lot) we haven't actually decreased the crew size - we just based a significant portion of the crew ashore. I've documented this in multiple posts. It's fact. Likely, if we accounted for all the LCS related personnel required to operate the LCS fleet, we'd have more "crew" than for a Perry!

      Jobs are neither created nor destroyed, they're just moved ashore!

  3. "Having seen no grand pronouncements of success"--I have to wonder how builder's trials went for precommunit Gerald R Ford?

  4. If the carrier is the only ship in the group not radiating, doesn't that make it easy to identify? Just shoot the only target NOT radiating and you hit the carrier.

    Against a supersonic anti-ship missile, wouldn't the ability to paint a target at a higher rate be better?

    I thought that the Navy's ships could target any ship/plane/missile that any ship or plane in the group could see, so the escorts with older radars benefit from the carrier's newer radar and the carrier can target low flying enemies for it's escorts that they can't see yet because their radars are mounted lower and their horizon is closer.

    1. BC, you need to do some research on how anti-air warfare is conducted and how missiles and sensors work.

  5. Thanks for that summary, CNO.

    "The DBR is fated to pass into the footnotes of history but we would do well to learn its lessons before it does."

    The post and this quote triggered some parallels back to an equally obscure radar (pair), the AN/SPS-32/33 fitted to only the CGN-9 and CVN-65.

    Not to say DBR shouldn't have been tried, but there does seem to be a pattern where lessons aren't learned and extreme expense is incurred. A contemporary example is the JSF, something which given the history of the TFX, should not have been allowed.

    I think you nailed it, though - applying business 'principles' to military affairs is the height of folly. Only to a bean counter does it make sense to have a single fighter with a single engine type.

    1. Hmm, any reasonably intelligent business person knows that single design/single supplier is a major and significant issue. As much as possible you want to have multiple valid designs from multiple suppliers for leverage and certainty.

    2. "As much as possible you want to have multiple valid designs from multiple suppliers for leverage and certainty."

      That's what I was getting at.

      Yet, we have been going in the other direction. Led by people who are meant to be quite intelligent.
      - Less diverse fleets of aircraft and ships (and no alternate engine for the 'single aircraft solution = F-35', since F-136 was quite deliberately cancelled, probably due to P&W lobbying),
      - Less prime contractors with all the consolidation that has been going on for decades. Leading to less competition. And less capacity to expand in a contingency.

  6. I got the chance to serve on a DDG and a CG. Having the SPS-49 onhand to provide additional track resolution was a enlightening experience. My issue with the dual band radar is that two phased array systems might end up generating similar false track data.

    1. Fascinating. What do you mean by false track data, aside from the obvious? How/why would a similar/duplicate false track be generated by two different radars operating in two different frequency ranges? Are you suggesting that two phased array systems will interfere with each other?

    2. Just that dependent upon the meteorological conditions (colloquially called SPY sunrise), the phased array would generate tracks that weren't there. As SPY is the only Air Search radar on a DDG, assumptions had to be made based upon things like air speed, altitude, location and squawk whether the track was legit or not.

      On the CG, all that was needed was to check with the SPS 49. I haven't been in since 2008 so maybe this issue with phased array radars has been resolved via upgrades since then. I don't know how atmospherics will affect an X band radar, just that this did happen within the S band on the SPY-1 and SPY-3.

    3. Fascinating. Thanks for sharing.

  7. Some of these comments make me wonder how these false signals are dealt with. Consider that the AEGIS is also an anti ballistic missile shooter does this issue affect it still and how so.

  8. PLAN fit CV-16 Liaoning with Type 346 APARs as on its Type 052C destroyers (albeit only 3 faces rather than 4, dictated by island configuration I imagine). CV-17 Shandong has four Type 346A APARs, same configuration as its latest Type 052D destroyers. As AESAs, both systems are arguably superior to the SPY-1s fitted to existing Burkes and Ticos, and more closely resemble the forthcoming SPY-6 for Burke III.

    So PLAN is evidently comfortable "overspeccing" its carriers in this respect. Of course you could argue that they are simply following another of the suggested tenets: that one-off systems are a bad idea.

    1. "So PLAN is evidently comfortable "overspeccing" its carriers in this respect."

      Or, they may have a different tactical use in mind for their carriers. US carriers don't need high tech radars because they're surrounded by Burkes and Ticos for defense and Burkes, Ticos, and Hawkeyes for linked radar pictures. The Chinese are not at this point yet and may believe that their carriers will have to actively engage in sensing and fighting for the foreseeable future until they can build up a fleet of their own Aegis escorts. Just speculation on my part.

  9. See:

    1. Varyag as she arrived in China.
    2. CV-16 Liaoning today.
    3. CV-17 Shandong at launch,

  10. A bit off topic:

    Could EMALS be going the same way?

    "President Trump has expressed his displeasure with a new system for launching planes from the next generation of Navy aircraft carriers, and said in an interview that he's ordered the Navy to scuttle the high-tech electromagnetic system in favor of an old-fashioned steam catapult."