Magazine article National Defense

Stakes Are High in Competition for Naval Air-Defense Program

Magazine article National Defense

Stakes Are High in Competition for Naval Air-Defense Program

Article excerpt

The Navy's sensor-networking technology known as "cooperative engagement capability" will undergo this month its most rigorous test so far, a test that could seal its fate. But even if the operational evaluation--"opeval" in Pentagon vernacular--is successful, the Navy's long-term plans for the program remain unclear, according to industry sources.

The cooperative engagement capability (CEC) has been in development since the mid-1980s, and the Navy has invested nearly $2 billion. It has been touted for years as one of the holy grails of joint air warfare. Its sensor-netting software and hardware allows ships in a battle group to share radar data on enemy air targets. CEC merges the sensor data from ships and aircraft in a battle group into a single, real-time, fire-control-quality composite track picture. By distributing sensor data to ships that are part of the network, CEC extends the range at which a ship can engage hostile missiles beyond the radar horizon.

Navy leaders, during the past several years, have pushed the idea that CEC should become the foundation for a Defense Department initiative called "single integrated air picture," or SLAP. It is that notion that makes future CEC work a coveted prize to a contractor. In this program, the race is not just about winning a production contract, but, more importantly, it's about who will "own" the SIAP.

CEC originally was conceived at the Johns Hopkins Applied Research Laboratory, in Laurel, Md. In its early years, the technology was designed to allow one Aegis ship to launch one missile against a target, using radar information from another Aegis ship. At the heart of the Aegis combat system is an advanced phased-array radar, the AN/SPY-1, capable of tracking more than 100 targets. The first Aegis system was installed in 1973.

For the past decade or so, the CEC prime contractor has been the Raytheon Company's Command, Control, Communications and Information Systems, in St. Petersburg, Fla. The firm developed the 2.0 baseline of CEC, which has been tested extensively in sea trials since the early 1990s. If the opeval scheduled for May is successful, the Navy would proceed with full-rate production of up to 215 CEC systems, which would be fielded in destroyers, cruisers, large-deck amphibious vessels, carriers and E-2C Hawkeye naval surveillance aircraft. The Pentagon estimated that the unit cost will be $77.9 million. Raytheon already was awarded four low-rate production contracts for 48 systems.

In March, the Navy completed a technical evaluation of CEC, with live missile firings. That test proved that CEC works as it was designed, said Capt. Dan Busch, the Navy's program manager. In the opeval--to be conducted at a range off the coast of Puerto Rico--the Navy will have to prove that the system is suited for operational use in the fleet. The test bed will be the USS John F. Kennedy carrier battle group.

But even though the Navy is focused on baseline 2.0 for the opeval, it has funded a new baseline 2.1, now in development by Raytheon. This baseline will be compatible with ship self-defense weapon systems aboard carriers and amphibious ships. About two years ago, the Navy also engaged another contractor, Lockheed Martin Naval Electronics & Surveillance Systems, in Moorestown, N.J., to develop a 2.2 baseline of CEC, with capabilities to track tactical ballistic missiles.

The decision to bring Lockheed into the program sparked controversy, because, to Raytheon officials, it meant that they now had a competitor even though there had been no formal competition. According to industry sources, the Navy agreed to award Lockheed Martin a development contract for the 2.2 CEC baseline in the aftermath of the service's decision to include Raytheon in the DD-21 destroyer competition. In that program, initially there was only one "dream team" of Lockheed, Bath Iron Works and Ingalls Shipbuilding competing for the DD-21 design and production. …

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