Behold The Navy’s New Radar For Nimitz Class Carriers And Amphibious Assault Ships

A staple feature on Nimitz class supercarriers and America’s “Gator Navy” of amphibious assault ships may begin to disappear in the not so distant future and in its place will be a very different looking system. The AN/SPS-48 three-dimensional air-search radar has been fielded across the Navy for over five decades. Today, a modernized version—the AN/SPS-48G—of the big, square, billboard-like, spinning array can still be found on Nimitz class carriers, San Antonio class landing platform docks, and Wasp and America class amphibious assault ships. But that is slated to slowly change as Raytheon’s new SPY-6V2 radar hits the fleet. 

SPY-6V2 is a very close relative of the Air and Missile Defense Radar (AMDR) system, also known as SPY-6V1, being fielded aboard the new Arleigh Burke class Flight III destroyers. AMDR is made up of 37 individual Radar Modular Assemblies (RMAs) that are basically two foot by two foot active electronically scanned array radar ‘blocks’ that can be easily swapped in and out as needed. This modularity means that the system can also be scaled up or down for different applications with relative ease.  

AN/SPS-48 has been around a long, long time in various configurations. Now a new kid is in town that will finally replace it., USN

Case in point is an outgrowth of this system known as the Enterprise Air Surveillance Radar (EASR) that is being developed for the third Ford Class supercarrier, USS Enterprise (CVN-80). You can read about why the Navy sought a new radar for the Ford class after just two ships had been procured here and here

Each EASR array is made up of nine RMAs. The radar is capable of providing a number of capabilities all at once, including anti-air and anti-surface warfare, air traffic control, and even possibly some electronic warfare capabilities for defensive purposes. The fact that the system is modular means that it will be more easily maintained and thus more reliable than its predecessors. So, it will actually save money over time. In fact, supposedly the EASR is so capable that it can also replace the two dimensional, long-range, L-band AN/SPS-49 radar on Navy flattops that receive EASR. And all this is in addition to offering a big leap in capabilities that AESAtechnology provides. 

EASR, which is also referred to as SPY-6, has evolved into multiple variants. SPY-6V3 uses three separate arrays that are flush-mounted into a ship’s superstructure, like the island on the Ford class supercarrier. Another variant, SPY-6V2, uses a single array that spins on a mount like a traditional 360-degree coverage radar system. This configuration still provides full scanning around the ship but doesn’t require three fixed arrays or the areas to mount them. There are some tradeoffs with going from three staring arrays to one rotating one, but for the ships they are destined for, this isn’t that important. It’s also work noting that one would assume the radar could just point in one direction for prolonged periods of time if need be.

SPY-6V2 rotating on its base at Wallops Island., Raytheon

The SPY-6V2 just successfully executed its first set of complex tests for the Navy. A Raytheon press release on the milestone reads in part:

U.S. Navy completed the first system-level tests of SPY-6(V)2, the Enterprise Air Surveillance Radar, at the Surface Combat System Center at Wallops Island, VA. In the first test the radar searched for, detected, identified and tracked numerous targets – including commercial aircraft. In a second exercise, the maturity of EASR integration enabled the radar to track multiple targets continuously for several hours during a test event involving another system.

“Moving quickly from radar installation at Wallops Island to ‘tracks on glass’ in less than three months is a major accomplishment,” said U.S. Navy Captain Jason Hall, Program Manager for Above Water Sensors, Program Executive Office Integrated Warfare Systems. “The EASR program is progressing extremely well. We are now one step closer to production and delivering the radar’s unmatched capability to the surface fleet.”

Upon completion of system-level testing in Q4 2019, EASR will shift from the engineering and manufacturing development phase to the production phase. The 1st delivery of AN/SPY-6(V)2 will be to LHA-8, the America Class Amphibious Assault Ship.

LHA-8, USS Bougainville, is really a class of her own within the America class. You can read all about the other changes this ship will feature in this past War Zone writeup on it. 

While amphibious assault ships from Bougainville on, as well as Ford class carriers from Enterprise on, and the Navy’s next amphibious landing docks known as LPD-17 Flight II (formally LX(R)), will all get the SPY-6 EASR, the system is also going to back fitted to existing ships with similar mission sets.

Yet another version of SPY-6, the SPY-6V4, is sized somewhere in the middle between EASR and AMDR, with 24 RMAs in each of four arrays. This system is slated to be back fitted into Flight II Arleigh Burke class destroyers, basically slotting into where the current SPY-1 phased radar arrays are installed now. This will give these ships a big boost in capability and reliability without needing to totally rework their superstructures and internal infrastructure.

What’s maybe most exciting is that SPY-6V3 is also the primary sensor destined for the Navy’s new frigate, the FFG(X). The Navy is scheduled to down-select an FFG(X) design very soon, and that semi-off-the-shelf design will be altered specifically to accommodate the three array variant of the SPY-6 EASR. 

So, when it comes to the SPY-6 and its many derivatives, we are talking about massive commonality across the U.S. Navy’s future fleet of old and new ships. 

The big classic-looking rotating radars that sit atop America’s flattops are definitely familiar and nostalgic, but this most recent successful test of the SPY-6V2 is a sign of what’s to come. Considering how fast the program has moved along, and clearly, the Navy likes what it sees, legacy radar systems will start being displaced by new technology probably faster than what’s even being envisioned at this time. As such, the cluttered masts of the most powerful of America’s fighting ships will soon look a bit different than they have in the past.

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Tyler Rogoway


Tyler's passion is the study of military technology, strategy, and foreign policy and he has fostered a dominant voice on those topics in the defense media space. He was the creator of the hugely popular defense site Foxtrot Alpha before developing The War Zone.