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This article was Originally Published on Apr 19, 2006 in Volume: 5  Issue: 1

Celebrating the Shield

Already the linchpin of the Navy’s strategy for self defense and the basis for a key element of the developing national missile defense system, the Aegis System is approaching its 25th anniversary.

By Harrison Donnelly

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Already the linchpin of the Navy’s strategy for self defense and the basis for a key element of the developing national missile defense system, the Aegis combat system is approaching a milestone of unusual longevity.

The Aegis system, a complex of radar, computer and missile systems designed to protect vessels from a range of air, surface and undersea threats, will reach its 25th anniversary next year. The USS Ticonderoga, the first ship equipped with the system, was christened in the spring of 1981, and commissioned in 1983.

The system, named for the shield of the gods in Greek and Roman mythology, is installed on U.S. vessels of the Ticonderoga and Arleigh Burke classes, and is also used by several allied navies. Aegis weapon systems have been procured for 102 ships in the last 25 years, although a few are no longer in service.

Currently, according to program prime contractor Lockheed Martin, Aegis weapon system capabilities are on 70 U.S. Navy cruisers and destroyers on station around the world, and plans call for installation of the system on an additional 18 U.S. Navy destroyers. In addition, Aegis has been chosen by Japan, Korea, Norway and Spain. Recently, Australia selected Aegis for its new air warfare destroyer program.

Aegis requires powerful technology to carry out its mission of detecting and tracking threats. Its SPY-1 phased-array radar can follow more than 100 targets at once, and its command-and-decision computers are able to perform up to 20 million actions per second.

The two basic missiles used with this system are the Standard Missile-2 and the Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile.

One of the first commemorations of the anniversary was held this fall by Raytheon, which produces key components of the system. Raytheon Integrated Defense Systems makes the transmitters for the SPY-1 radar and the Mark 99 fire control system. The Aegis transmitters are built in Andover, Mass., while the missiles are built in Tucson, Ariz., by Raytheon Missile Systems.

“The Aegis program is the most successful and finest shipbuilding program in the world, not just for the U.S. Navy but for our allies,” Kevin Kenney, Aegis acquisition manager, Navy Program Executive Office, Integrated Warfare Systems, said at the celebration.

“The impressive part of Aegis is mission assurance,” said Kenny. “Aegis ships and their self-defense systems have to work 24/7. No excuses. No downtime. And, that’s the way it’s been over the last 25 years. That’s our requirement. We set the bar high, but what’s at risk is even higher. Aegis is very important to our country and very important to the men and women who protect us.”

“The anniversary event was in celebration of 25 years of continuous delivery,” explained Bruce Clark, Aegis program manager for the company. “It started with the first Aegis ship to receive the system, the USS Ticonderoga. That delivery from Raytheon took place in 1980, and the ship was commissioned in 1983.

“The celebration had a wide variety of people, including the government people and other contractors who support the system. The program has a long history of a very good relationship with all of those folks. That has to do with our entire thrust on customer-focused marketing, which starts with performance, and Aegis has performed admirably over the years. It continues with the relationships we have with our customers and the solutions we’ve provided over the years with major technology upgrades,” Clark said.

Radar Evolution

Harold “Skip” Burns, director of in-service radars and fire control systems for Raytheon, explained the role of his company’s transmitters in the SPY-1 radar system.

“The fundamental principle is the radar scanning the horizon for any kind of air and surface threat,” Burns said. “Our system provides the power to transmit these radar signals in 360 degrees around the ship. Any time that there is a suspicious object detected, we use the fire control system to illuminate the suspicious object, which may be an incoming missile. The illuminator will direct a fire control solution, and if it indeed is a hostile maneuver, it would direct a NATO Sea Sparrow or Standard missile to take out the threat.

“The SPY-1/Aegis system has evolved a number of times. There have been several significant baseline changes over the years. The system baseline began years ago as the SPY-1A and now is referred to as SPY-1D(V). Each of these system updates have kept pace with technology and emerging threats,” he continued.

“The most recent change, the SPY-1D(V), was aimed at making the surface picture even better,” Burns added. “There have been a number of other improvements we’ve made to ensure that this product is rigorous and rugged. It has passed all kinds of environmental testing, including very rigorous shock testing.”

Production of the system is drawing to a close, because the number of ships planned for Aegis SPY-1 systems by the Navy will soon be completely outfitted with this equipment. “We’re moving into a phase where we’re supporting the whole lifecycle of the equipment, which could include technology refresh, upgrades and whole life support,” said Clark.

In the long view, Burns added, there aren’t many programs that make it to 25 years of continuous production. “There was a development period before production and there will be 30 to 40 years of life cycle after initial production has been completed. That doesn’t happen by accident. This type of longevity happens because there has been outstanding trust and partnership with the Navy.”

The systems should be around for an extended period. “The life expectancy is 30 to 40 years, but it’s not the equipment that drives that, but the machinery on the ship,” said Clark. “The equipment would continue to operate beyond that, but the ship itself would expire.”

System Engineering

Lockheed Martin is the combat system engineering agent for Aegis, according to company spokesman Ken Ross.

“That means that the Navy counts on us to put together and integrate all of the components that make up the system,” Ross explained. “Lockheed Martin developed a good portion of it, including the SPY-1 phased array radar and several of the components and software that go into the system. We also have a good number of suppliers that provide components and expertise, from around the country and now from around the world. We manage all of that and make sure the systems work together.

“For example, when we build an Aegis weapon system, it all comes together in one piece in Morristown, N.J. We build the radar, do a lot of the software work, and bring in the materials from our suppliers and assemble it here. Everything is already tested by those involved in the manufacturing process, but we have facilities here called production test centers,” he continued.

The weapon systems are installed in test facilities called deck houses, which are designed to replicate the actual vessel for which they are intended. “The full system is installed, from radar to wave guides to cabling and all the consoles, and we test it over the period of a couple of months, to make sure that it is tracking properly. We make sure it is detecting and formulating the information properly, which reduces the risk when it gets to the ship. You have more confidence that it’s going to do exactly what you want every time you want it to do it,” said Ross.

Lockheed is also involved in the installation of the system on the ship, providing engineering support and working closely with the shipyards, and has a round-the-clock center that can support an Aegis ship anywhere around the world.

Working with international customers requires considerable flexibility, because foreign navies may want to combine Aegis with different weapons than those used by the United States. “So we work to make sure that all the software and connections work properly with Aegis. That’s been so successful that a number of the systems we’ve worked, for example in Spain, have been certified through the U.S. Navy as equipment that can be used in any Aegis system around the world. We’ve brought in additional suppliers and expertise for different kinds of configurations, so that if the U.S., Japanese or other navies want something different, they have a number of different options available to meet their needs,” he said.

Although there are a number of different configurations, they are all interoperable, Ross emphasized, pointing to a Spanish Aegis-equipped frigate that is currently deployed with the USS Theodore Roosevelt battle group.

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