After nine years, Marine Corp finally may have full production of G/ATOR radar in sight

Oct. 24, 2014
QUANTICO, Va., 24 Oct. 2014. U.S. Marine Corps leaders are moving forward with ordering prototypes of a long-delayed and expensive radar system designed to protect Marines on attack beaches from rockets, artillery, mortars, cruise missiles, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and other low observables.
QUANTICO, Va., 24 Oct. 2014. U.S. Marine Corps leaders are moving forward with ordering prototypes of a long-delayed and expensive radar system designed to protect Marines on attack beaches from rockets, artillery, mortars, cruise missiles, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and other low observables.

Officials of the Marine Corps Systems Command at Quantico Marine Base, Va., announced a $207.3 million contract modification Thursday to the Northrop Grumman Corp. Electronic Systems segment in Linthicum Heights, Md., for four prototype Ground/Air Task-Oriented Radar (G/ATOR) systems as a step toward full system production.

The contract modification, in addition to the four G/ATOR low-rate initial production systems, includes operating spares, contractor engineering services and support, developmental and operational test support, and transition to production, Marine Corps officials say.

G/ATOR is an expeditionary, three-dimensional, short-to-medium-range multi-role radar system designed to detect low-observable targets with low radar cross sections such as rockets, artillery, mortars, cruise missiles, and UAVs.

Related: Marines ask Northrop Grumman to take next step in Ground Weapons Locating Radar (GWLR)

Marine Corps leaders are developing and fielding G/ATOR in three blocks for use by the Marine Air Ground Task Force across the range of military operations, officials say.

G/ATOR development began more than nine years ago with a $7.9 million contract to Northrop Grumman Electronic Systems. At the time the three-increment G/ATOR development involved short-range air surveillance, counter-battery fire and target acquisition, and sensor networking.

The program's first increment asked Northrop Grumman will build G/ATOR for short-range air defense (SHORAD) and tactical air operations Center (TAOC) air surveillance missions, including IFF. The increment I design was to provide for growth to all following increments without equipment re-design and provide an open architecture to enable computer upgrades with the functionality of all following increments.

Related: Marine Corps chooses Northrop Grumman for new battlefield radar system

The second increment was to develop and produce systems based on the increment I baseline for ground counter-battery and target acquisition. The third increment was to incorporate Mode 5/S IFF, electronic protection equipment and software, non-cooperative target recognition, sensor netting, an advanced radar environmental simulator, and a logistics integrated data environment (IDE).

The G/ATOR program was to showcase new component technologies, including the then-new VPX embedded computing fast switch-fabric interconnect. As part of the G/ATOR program's first increment, Northrop Grumman awarded a $4.3 million contract in 2008 to Curtiss-Wright Corp. for VPX-based embedded computers for radar signal processing, which were to be delivered by 2010.

(story continues below)

Curtiss-Wright supplied Northrop Grumman Electronic Systems with a rugged air-flow-through radar processing subsystem with VPX single-board computers and other open-architecture standards and software for the G/ATOR processor.

Curtiss-Wright provided what then were considered the company's latest digital signal processing (DSP), field programmable gate array (FPGA) and single board computer products.

Related: Lockheed Martin to provide array electronics for TPS-59 air- and missile-search radar

A fourth increment to G/ATOR was to incorporate an air traffic control (ATC) capability. That first contract back in September 2005 was to conclude in September 2009, and that's when problems cropped up.

By October 2009 the Pentagon reported a $14 million cost overrun to G/ATOR, which was blamed on additional capability added during the previous four years, and to unexpected developments like the rising cost of gold, which made advanced electronic connectors for the military radar more expensive. The use of VPX technology was not blamed for any delays or cost overruns.

By mid-2012 -- nearly seven years after the program began -- the Marine Corps awarded a contract to Northrop Grumman to begin the second increment of developing the Ground Weapons Locating Radar (GWLR) portion of G/ATOR.

Related: Lockheed Martin to upgrade computers in Marine Corps TPS-59 deployable air search radar

This 2012 GWLR work involved software installed on the first increment's hardware and operating system software, which Northrop Grumman engineers designed.

The GWLR portion of the G/ATOR program uses active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar technology to enable the system to provide several different radar missions and adapt automatically to changing battlefield conditions. The GWLR is intended to offer the Marines a increase in detection range, accuracy, and deployability over other counter-battery radar systems.

By this phase of the G/ATOR program, the GWLR included interfaces to the U.S. military Advanced Field Artillery Tactical Data System (AFATDS) located in deployed fire-direction centers. The GWLR was intended to provide 24-hour target-acquisition capability to detect mortars, artillery, and rockets as far away as 45 miles.

Related: Marine Corps G/ATOR radar system is early design-in win for VPX embedded computers

Now, more than nine years after the initial contract to Northrop Grumman, full-scale production of the G/ATOR system finally is in sight.

On this contract modification Northrop Grumman will do the work in Linthicum Heights, Md.; East Syracuse, N.Y.; Stafford Springs, Conn.; San Diego; Big Lake, Minn.; Londonderry, N.H.; High Point, N.C.; Wallingford Center, Conn.; Camarillo, Calif.; and Woodbridge, Ill., and should be finished by October 2017.

For more information contact Northrop Grumman Electronic Systems online at

About the Author

John Keller | Editor

John Keller is editor-in-chief of Military & Aerospace Electronics magazine, which provides extensive coverage and analysis of enabling electronic and optoelectronic technologies in military, space, and commercial aviation applications. A member of the Military & Aerospace Electronics staff since the magazine's founding in 1989, Mr. Keller took over as chief editor in 1995.

Voice your opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of Military Aerospace, create an account today!