Civilian radar used for joint ATC

BALTIMORE - An air route surveillance radar, the ARSR-4, developed for the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and part of a joint program with the U.S. Air Force, is now being marketed by its developer, the Electronic Sensors and Systems Division of Northrop Grumman Corp. in Baltimore, for foreign air traffic control (ATC) systems.

By John Rhea

BALTIMORE - An air route surveillance radar, the ARSR-4, developed for the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and part of a joint program with the U.S. Air Force, is now being marketed by its developer, the Electronic Sensors and Systems Division of Northrop Grumman Corp. in Baltimore, for foreign air traffic control (ATC) systems.

The all solid-state 3D L-band radar (military designation FPS-130) is based on commercial technology and was designed from the beginning for joint operation.

In the unattended mode, controllers use ARSR mainly for en route commercial air traffic, but it can handle such military requirements as tracking small supersonic targets such as cruise missiles, as well as monitor frequencies used for electronic jamming.

Northrop Grumman officials have delivered 43 of the 44 radars called for under the contract with the FAA-Air Force joint program office. The first was installed at Mount Laguna, Calif., in 1993, and the last is due to be installed this year at Ajo, Ariz.

One of them is dedicated to training at an FAA facility in Oklahoma City, and two of them are for uniquely military requirements: Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.

Northrop Grumman officials estimate that the military-unique versions require about 10 to 20 percent more software than the civil versions, and 20 to 30 percent more hardware.

Northrop Grumman executives see an international market for 15 to 30 systems over the next five to seven years, says John Teixeira, the company`s director of ATC business.

Systems cost $7 million to $8 million each, plus about another 10 percent for upgrading to specific military requirements. In 1995 Northrop Grumman officials sold three to the Royal Thai Air Force, which operates Thailand`s air traffic control system.

This is the way other countries normally operate, Teixeira explains: unlike the United States, which has a joint-use system under civil control, most countries place the ATC system under military control. Yet the needs are complementary, and many countries need to upgrade their systems to new technology.

Solid-state radars offer a 25 percent improvement over earlier radars, such as the ARSR-3, Teixeira notes, and can reduce maintenance costs by 50 percent.

The ARSR-4, the first of the new breed of joint-use ATC radars, also was designed to handle the growth in commercial air traffic, and the company expects it to meet projected needs for the next 20 years.

More in Communications