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A full-scale development program is underway to develop a version of the U. S. Navy's Boeing P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft (MPA), fitted with a long-range, high-resolution surveillance radar. It could provide a ready-made, Navy-funded replacement for the aging Joint Stars while potentially performing maritime targeting missions.
The Raytheon Advanced Airborne Sensor (AAS) project, which has been under contract since July 2009, has received Milestone B approval for development and production planning and is proceeding toward critical design review.
Boeing received a $277 million contract in February to modify the first P-8A, aircraft T-1, for aerodynamic and structural tests of the AAS radar pod, which is carried under the fuselage. Those tests are to be completed by August 2016. The radar itself, a much-modernized evolutionary development of the Raytheon APS-149 Littoral Surveillance Radar System (LSRS) is to be tested on a P-3C Orion, the current carrier for the APS-149. The value of the radar development contract has not been disclosed.
A U.S. Navy radar developed in secrecy for tracking targets at sea has been playing an important role on land because of its ability to track objects smaller than trucks or cars. One knowledgeable official says the radar is one of the "groundbreaking" insurgent-hunting technologies referred to, though not by name, in Bob Woodward's latest book, "The War Within."
The Littoral Surveillance Radar System, or LSRS, was "born black" and developed as a "deeply, deeply classified system," according to a knowledgeable official who was not authorized to speak for the program. LSRS operates from P-3C Orions and can be used to track targets on land or sea, and to provide images of those targets to intelligence analysts and commanders. Boeing, Raytheon and L-3 Communications collaborated on it.
The secret of LSRS is its fidelity. Other airborne radars, including the 17-year-old Army-Air Force Joint Surveillance and Target Attack Radar System (Joint STARS) aircraft, can track cars and trucks through clouds and at night. Because of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Pentagon pushed the U.S. defense industry to develop radars capable of detecting and tracking people. In 2008, Northrop Grumman reported that an experimental airborne sensor called the Vehicle and Dismount Exploitation Radar had detected people during a flight over a test range in Maryland. Northrop Grumman says that radar would be small enough to fit on a Predator UAV.