Lockheed Martin [LMT] is expanding the capabilities of the Army’s Q-53 counterfire radar to deal with small unmanned aerial systems and eventually plans for the same system to be capable of short-range air defense (SHORAD) for deployed ground forces.

Lockheed has built at least 95 Q-53 counter-target acquisition radars (CTAR) systems for the Army. Initially fielded in 2010, the advanced, electronically-scanned array (AESA) radar is the most modern in the Army’s inventory, Lockheed’s Q-53 Program Director Rick Herodes told reporters during a conference call on April 24. Its primary mission is to detect and provide location data for incoming indirect fire, including enemy mortar and artillery and the position from which it was fired.

Eventually the Army plans to purchase 170 Q-53 radar systems, which are now in full-rate production. Lockheed recently built the 100th Q-53.

The company is under a $1.6 billion 5-year indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity let in March that includes potential foreign military sales (FMS) and support. Lockheed already has at least one FMS customer on the line, he said.

The AN/TPQ-53 radar system. Photo courtesy Lockheed Martin.
The AN/TPQ-53 radar system. Photo courtesy Lockheed Martin.

The radar’s software-driven AESA technology is designed with an open architecture that can be updated with new mission capabilities. In 2016, responding to understood Army needs, Lockheed began development of a software upgrade that would allow existing Q-53s to detect and track small unmanned aerial systems (UAS) that were used by potential adversaries like Russia as forward artillery observers in Ukraine and Syria, he said.

The Army issued Lockheed a $28 million contract for Lockheed to develop and demonstrate a counter-UAS capability for the Q-53, which it did last year at an exercise at Fort Sill.

“Last year we heard there was a threat from UAS,” he said. “The Army put us on contract to create a multi-mission capability to allow it to detect UAs while still doing a counter-fire mission,” he said. “The software-controlled AESA architecture allows us to drive the radar capabilities without making hardware changes.”

The Army’s next foreseen operational need is for a mobile, short-range air defense radar that can detect incoming missiles and pass along targeting information to air defenses like Patriot batteries and other systems like directed energy weapons.

Lockheed currently is working on ist response to the Army’s yet-unpublished SHORAD requirement, he said. With a set-up time of five minutes and a break-down tie of two minutes, Lockheed expects the radar will fulfill the Army’s need for a mobile SHORAD radar capability.

“Just as the 53 has the flexibility to support counter-UAS, we know it has the flexibility to support the SHORAD mission, he said.

Lockheed hopes to demonstrate the SHORAD capability in November 2018 at the Army’s Mobile Forces Integration Experiment, which is expected to focus on weapons and technologies dedicated to that mission.

“The 53 is maneuverable,” he said. “From a mechanical perspective it is already there. All we would be talking about is changing the function of the system from CTAR to SHORAD.”

Eventually, the radar will have to communicate with the Army’s Integrated Battle Command System (IBCS), which seeks a central air defense brain into which any radar or countermeasure can be plugged depending on battlefield conditions and threats.

The Q-53’s open architecture design will allow easy and seamless integration with IBCS, though the work to do so has not been completed.

“It’s on our roadmap,” Herodes said. “The interface is not difficult to match to. We’re monitoring the Army’s progress toward IBCS.”