Navy asks Communications & Power to provide traveling wave tubes (TWTs) for ship radar power electronics

July 9, 2024
The TWT is an elongated vacuum tube with an electron gun at one end that applies voltage across the cathode and anode to accelerate electrons.

MECHANICSBURG, Pa. – U.S. Navy surface warship combat system experts needed simplified drive traveling wave tubes (TWTs) for Aegis combat systems aboard Arleigh Burke-class destroyers and Ticonderoga-class cruisers. They found their solution from Communications & Power Industries LLC in Palo Alto, Calif.

Officials of the Naval Supply Systems Command Weapon Systems Support segment in Mechanicsburg, Pa., announced a $13.7 million two-year contract to Communications & Power in June for simplified drive TWTs for the AEGIS combat system.

The Aegis combat system uses powerful computers and radar to track and guide weapons to destroy enemy targets. More than 100 Aegis-equipped ships have been deployed in five navies worldwide. Aegis, not an acronym, refers to the shield of the mythical Greek God Zeus.

The TWT power electronics device, part of the Aegis system's powerful radar, is a specialized vacuum tube that amplifies microwave signals by absorbing power from a beam of electrons as it passes down the tube. It has a special ability to amplify a wide range of frequencies, and is used widely as the power amplifiers and oscillators in radar, electronic warfare (EW), and communications systems.

Related: Communications and Power to provide traveling wave tubes for Navy shipboard EW systems

The TWT is an elongated vacuum tube with an electron gun at one end. A voltage applied across the cathode and anode accelerates the electrons towards the far end of the tube, and an external magnetic field around the tube focuses the electrons into a beam. At the other end of the tube the electrons strike a collector, which returns them to the circuit.

Wrapped around the inside of the tube, just outside the beam path, is a helix of wire, typically oxygen-free copper. The RF signal to be amplified is fed into the helix at a point near the emitter end of the tube. The signal is normally fed into the helix via a waveguide or electromagnetic coil placed at one end, forming a one-way signal path, a directional coupler.

Aegis, developed in the 1980s, integrates the AN/SPY-1 radar, MK 99 fire control system, weapons control, the command and decision suite, and SM-2 Standard missile family, which includes the basic RIM-66 Standard, the RIM-67 extended range missile, and the newer RIM-161 designed to counter ballistic missiles. The AN/SPY-1 is a 3D radar system designed and manufactured by Lockheed Martin Corp.

On this contract Communications & Power will do the work in Palo Alto, Calif., and should be finished by October 2026. For more information contact Communications & Power online at, or the Naval Supply Systems Command Weapon Systems Support at

About the Author

John Keller | Editor-in-Chief

John Keller is the Editor-in-Chief, Military & Aerospace Electronics Magazine--provides extensive coverage and analysis of enabling electronics and optoelectronic technologies in military, space and commercial aviation applications. John has been a member of the Military & Aerospace Electronics staff since 1989 and chief editor since 1995.

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