Marine Corps Takes Delivery of First Production Model G/ATOR
By OTTO KREISHER, Special Correspondent
LINTHICOM, Md. — The Marine Corps has taken delivery of a new multimission radar system that will replace three existing radars and provide much greater capability and efficiency across a wide spectrum of expeditionary missions.
The Marines and the manufacturer, Northrop Grumman, celebrated the handover of the first production model of the Ground/Air Task-Oriented Radar (G/ATOR) March 29 at Northrop’s assembly plant near the Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.
The transfer of the first system “is the culmination of a decade of cooperation with the Marine Corps,” said Roshan Roeder, Northrop’s vice president for global ground-based radars.
When the G/ATOR program was started in 2007, the single system was intended to replace five legacy radar systems, meaning it would eliminate the need for five different training programs, support systems and personnel teams, Roeder said.
Although two of the legacy radars already have been retired, Maj. Gen. Steven Busby, the deputy commander of the Marine Corps Combat Development Command, touted “the money we’ll save” and the “leap-ahead technology” the Marines will gain with the new system.
An individual G/ATOR system can conduct short-range air defense, broad-area air surveillance, counter-mortar targeting and air traffic control, each of which currently require separate radars. It also is able to track small unmanned aerial vehicles, which the existing radars cannot find.
And the system is “very modular,” with open architecture that makes it easy to update and to add new capabilities without changing the hardware, Roeder noted. The possible additional missions include ballistic missile defense, she said.
The Marines required the system to be deployable with the Marine Expeditionary Units (MEU) that deploy aboard amphibious vessels, be able to go ashore and to relocate as needed. That meant G/ATOR had to be capable of being lifted by MV-22 Osprey and fit inside a C-130 transport, said Mark Smith, the business director for global ground-based radars.
“We had to pay a great deal of attention to the weight and size,” Smith said.
Speaking at a hilltop testing site overlooking BWI Airport, Smith said the radar could cover the area from just south of New York City down to Norfolk, Va.
The most impressive endorsement for G/ATOR came from Chief Warrant Officer William Kelly, the Marines’ program manager, who has been helping to conduct multiple tests of prototypes systems.
Although he questioned the value of the new radar at the start, Kelly said, “the system has proven itself over and over again,” including operating in a sand storm that shut down all the legacy systems. G/ATOR not only has much greater capability than the existing radars, he said it had a “self-leveling” ability that meant he could set it up on a lot of terrain unacceptable for the old radars.
And, compared with the legacy radars, the four-Marine team for G/ATOR can focus their time setting up and operating the system instead of all the work required to care for various elements of the old systems, he said.
“I can’t wait to get this out in the field,” he said.
The first unit, on display at the testing site, will be put through operational testing starting in February, and additional units will be delivered next year, Smith said.
The Marines plan to buy 45 G/ATOR systems, 17 for the MEU’s air combat element to conduct air surveillance and traffic control, and 28 for the ground combat element to do counter-fire and air defense. The average unit cost of a G/ATOR $36.1 million, according to the Marine Corps.
The G/ATOR system consists of three major components: the 8-by-12 foot active electronically scanned array radar on a supporting base, which can be towed by a standard 7-ton truck; a 60-kilowatt power unit that can be carried by a High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle (Humvee), and a communications unit that takes the data from the radar, encrypts it and relays it to the command and control systems for the different missions. It also can be carried on a Humvee.