A major technology revolution is underway in the manufacture of commercial marine navigation radars. Many leading manufacturers are now using solid-state New Technology Radars (NTR) as upgrades from the resonant-cavity magnetron radars invented more than 70 years ago. NTR potentially offers lower operating and maintenance costs, less interference and better detection performance in sea clutter. The Coast Guard Research and Development Center (RDC) has the responsibility to determine if benefits of NTR capabilities have reached a point of technological maturity that NTR should be pursued to enhance Coast Guard mission performance.
The Coast Guard is interested in NTR, in part, because the staff responsible for the service’s aids to navigation program recognize that these new radars operate using lower peak power, thus triggering radar beacon (RACON) buoys at ranges significantly shorter than the older magnetron radars. In 2008, the first NTR commercial marine solid-state devices received their type certification and appeared on the international market. The RDC began examining these NTR in 2010, as part of a RACON replacement study. The RDC examined the size of the NTR market and the capabilities of the technology relative to these radars’ ability to trigger RACON buoys. In 2012, the RDC conducted a more thorough examination of market trends to determine whether the NTR would surpass magnetron radars as the navigation radar of choice amongst different categories of vessel owners and operators. This 2012 study built upon earlier RDC research and a similar 2010 study by the Center for Naval Analyses (CNA) on behalf of the U.S. Navy.
The RDC worked with the CNA to draft and release to manufacturers a Request For Information on magnetron and NTR systems, as well as to perform open market research using government and commercial sources. In reviewing responses to the Request for Information, the RDC found that, since 2010, the growing number of NTR manufacturers and systems represents a large potential market with users adopting these systems at a growing rate. Additionally, research shows that NTR systems are achieving significant penetration into existing markets, including marine navigation, coastal surveillance, and Vessel Traffic Systems management. The RDC also identified opportunities for a new research project that will be aimed at:
- Partnering with the Navy or other government entities to leverage their real-world data on NTR performance.
- Partnering with manufacturers to test and evaluate NTR.
- Conducting structured side-by-side comparisons of NTR and conventional magnetron radars to measure their actual detection ranges as a function of sea clutter.
To facilitate continued research, the Naval Sea Systems Command is coordinating the use of the Navy’s high-speed experimental boat Stiletto which has been outfitted with an NTR and will conduct detection, tracking, and interception on contacts of Coast Guard interest (i.e., a person in the water or a small life raft).