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UPDATED: Marine Corps Nears IOC Decision on G/ATOR Radar System

G/ATOR undergoes cold weather testing, one of many steps in the rigorous process of ensuring that the radar is ready to support the Marines’ missions. Northrop Grumman photo.

This post has been updated to include information from an interview with the G/ATOR program office. It has also been updated to clarify that the Initial Operational Capability declaration could be made after outfitting two units with the training and spares needed to sustain the early radars delivered to the Marine Corps, but that initial operational test and evaluation is pending the delivery of later lots with a new semiconductor.

The Marine Corps is about to declare initial operational capability for its AN/TPS-80 Ground/Air Task-Oriented Radar (G/ATOR) after the service certified that two operational units had the training and logistics in place to sustain the new radar.

Prior to the declaration, the Marine Corps conducted extensive testing with the radars at Wallops Island and Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, an interoperability demonstration between G/ATOR and the new Common Aviation Command and Control System (CAC2S) system, and operational assessments with Marine Air Control Squadron (MACS-1) in Yuma and MACS-2 in Cherry Point.

MACS-1 and MACS-2 will continue working with one radar system apiece for operational use, with plans to bring the radar to the spring and fall Weapons and Tactics Instructor Courses (WTI) in Yuma and to an exercise in Norway later this year, deputy program manager Roy Barnhill told USNI News today.

Barnhill said the Marine Corps certified last week that MACS-1 was fully ready to sustain the new system, and the service made a similar certification for MACS-2 about a month ago – which sets up the Marine Corps to declare Initial Operational Capability. Contractor Northrop Grumman said in a news release that the milestone proves “production systems, spares, logistic support items and documentation have been tested and validated through a rigorous process.”

Beginning with Lot 3 units, the service is switching to a Gallium Nitride (GaN) semiconductor to replace the Gallium Arsenide (GaAs) semiconductor used in Lot 1 and Lot 2, and Pentagon acquisition officials decided that initial operational test and evaluation (IOT&E) would have to wait until the GaN technology delivers to the Marines, Barnhill said.

The deputy PM added that contractor Northrop Grumman is on track to deliver the three Lot 3 radars with the GaN technology in mid-August. The Marines would spend about a month doing a scaled-down developmental test period, since the hardware and software are all the same as the Lots 1 and 2 units, aside from the semiconductor material. After that month-long testing, MACS-1 would in October conduct initial operational test and evaluation with the G/ATOR Block 1 capability, which covers air defense and air surveillance missions.

The Marine Corps and Northrop Grumman are also pursuing a Block 2 capability, which would track ground-based artillery, rockets and mortars – primarily to identify and attack the source of incoming fires, but also for use during Marine Corps training events, so artillery units can track the accuracy of their outgoing rounds. The remaining four Lot 1 and 2 radars are currently being used for G/ATOR Block 2 development, Barnhill said. Barnhill said Block 2 IOT&E is set for December. That testing will involve the 11th Marine Regiment, an artillery regiment out of Camp Pendleton.

U.S. Marines prepare to transport an AN/TPS-80 G/ATOR radar system to Bogue Field, N.C., Oct. 24, 2017. This G/ATOR radar system is the first of its kind to be used by the Marine Corps and will be put to the test during exercise Bold Alligator. US Marine Corps photo.

As more lots continue to deliver – each lot contract covers three radars – the radars will be spread out to aviation and ground units around the globe. MACS-1 and MACS-2 are the first two aviation units to work with the system, and then 11th Marines and their Camp Lejeune counterpart 10th Marines will take home G/ATORs for their training and operations. MACS-24, a reserve unit in Virginia Beach, and MACS-4 in Okinawa, will also be early recipients of the new radar.

The Marine Corps currently plans to buy 17 G/ATOR systems for the Block 1 mission and 28 for the Block 2 mission, USNI News previously reported.

“Through our close partnership with the Marine Corps, we have been able to achieve this important early fielding milestone,” Roshan Roeder, vice president of the land and avionics C4ISR division at Northrop Grumman Mission Systems, said in the news release.
“We are looking ahead to full-rate production and getting G/ATOR’s unprecedented capabilities to the Marines in the field.”