U.S. to Sell Large Early Warning Radar to Qatar (August 7, 2013) (corrected February 10, 2014)

On July 29, the U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency notified Congress of a potential sale of an FPS-132 early warning radar to Qatar.  This sale of an early warning radar had been announced previously (see my post of November 7, 2012), but the type of radar was not specified at that time.  

 The cost of the radar and associated equipment, training and support was estimated to be $1.1 billion.


The FPS-132 UEWR radar at Fylingdales in Britain.  (Image source: http://www.mda.mil)

 The FPS-132 designation is used for Pave Paws or BMEWS early warning radars that have been upgraded to the Upgraded Early Warning Radar (UEWR) configuration that now forms the core radar infrastructure of the U.S. Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) national missile defense system.  The GMD system currently incorporates three FPS-32s, the Pave Paws radar at Beale Air Force Base in California and the BMEWS radars in Fylingdales,  Britain and Thule, Greenland.   Current plans call for the two remaining Pave Paws radars, at Clear, Alaska and on Cape Cod, to be upgraded to the UEWR configuration by 2017 or later.

The three Pave Paws and two BMEWS radars, all manufactured by Raytheon, are nearly identical except for the somewhat greater size and power the BMEWS radars.  Each phased-array face of a Pave Paws radars has a diameter of 22.1 m compared to 25.6 m for a BMEWS’ radar face.   Each face of a Pave Paws is comprised of 1792 active transmit/receive (T/R) modules, giving an average power per face of about 150 kW.  Each face of a BMEWS includes 2,560 active T/R modules giving an average power of about 255 kW.   Except for the radar at Fylingdales, each of these radars has two faces, each of which covers 120° in azimuth, giving a total azimuthal coverage of 240°.  The Fylingdales radar has three faces, providing 360° coverage.   For descriptions of the Pave Paws and BMEWS radars, see my post of April 12, 2012.

These radars operate between 420-450 MHz, in the UHF radar band.  Because of their limited bandwidth (at most 30 MHZ, probably no more than 10 MHz), the range resolution of these radars is too poor (roughly 25 meters or more) to give them any significant discrimination capability.  However, they can simultaneously track large numbers of targets at large ranges.  MDA’s UEWR fact sheet states that an FPS-132 “detects objects out to 3,000 miles.” In fact, the actual ranges of these radars are likely to be significantly larger.  The original Pave Paws specifications state that it was capable of achieving a S/N = 17.7 dB (= 58.9) against a 10 m2 target (on boresite) at a range of 3,000 nautical miles ( = 5,550 km) with a single 16 ms pulse (the longest pulse it can produce).[1]   (However, because of the curvature of the Earth, ballistic missile targets are unlikely to be observed at ranges much greater than 4,000-4,500 km.) This corresponds to a range of 2,300 km against a 0.1 m2 target with a S/N = 13 dB (=20). The range of the larger BMEWS radars would be about 25% greater.  

The announcement of the sale of the radar to Qatar gives no details of the radar’s configuration, such as the number of antenna faces or how it compares in terms of size and power to the existing U.S. Pave Paws or BMEWS radars.  However, it seems likely that the radar is similar to the large phased-array early warning radar that Raytheon recently completed building for Taiwan (which in photographs such as the one here looks very much like a Pave Paws or BMEWS radar) and which is usually described as having two faces and costing about $1.3 billion (after significant cost overruns).

Qatar has also recently ordered two TPY-2 X-band radars (as part of two THAAD missile defense systems).    In the context of an integrated missile defense system, the FPS-132 UEWR would provide early warning and broad-area surveillance against ballistic missile targets for Qatar (and likely other countries), relieving the TPY-2 radars of this mission so as to enable them to focus on their roles as THAAD fire control and discrimination radars.

In U.S. use, all five of the Pave Paws and BMEWS radars also participate in the U.S. Space Surveillance Network (SSN).   While Qatar probably has little use for space surveillance, data from this radar (if made available) might be quite useful to the U.S. SSN, since it has no large radar in this part of the world.

[1] National Research Council, Radiation Intensity of the PAVE PAWS Radar System, 1979, Table 1.

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  1. Allen Thomson

     /  August 7, 2013

    Hrm. Note yesterday’s story that the US will/may shut down the venerable Space Fence (formerly NAVSPASUR), that the S-band follow-on to SF is kind of in TBD-land, the proliferation of AN/TPY-2s, the Taiwan Pave Paws… One does wonder what the next decade holds in the way of radar space surveillance. There is no clear picture that I can see, but some interesting possibilities.

    • Kestrel

       /  August 9, 2013

      The Space Fence (S-Band) was doomed from the start with a nearly incoherently PC risk adverse acquisition strategy. If they shut down NAVSPASUR — it may be a strategy to strengthen the position of the acquiring the S-Band Fence. However, in this resource ($$) constrained environment they may call their bluff. If they do, they will have to maintain the current SS Network (including COBRA DANE) for the foreseeable future.

  2. Wu Riqiang

     /  August 8, 2013

    Taiwan officials said that if US exports PAVE PAWS to other countries, the importer should share the developmental cost with Taiwan. In total, the radar costs 40 billion Taiwan dollars, but they didn’t mention how much money is for the developmental cost.

  3. It seems very unlikely that the U.S. would ever agree to give Taiwan a share of the sales of radars sold to other countries. If the Taiwan radar is rreally an upgraded Pave Paws, this is a very mature technology and so I wouldn’t think there was much in the way of development costs beyond site specific issues. $40 billion Taiwan dollars is about $1.3 billion US dollars, which is consistent with recent reports. While this is somewaht greater than than the $1.1 billion US dolalrs cited for the Qatar radar, the Taiwan radar had signficant cost overruns, at least some of which were due to the nature of the site (mudslides). The orgianl cost eatimate for the Taiwan radar was only $700 million US dollars.

    • Kestrel

       /  August 9, 2013

      Actually the cost overruns were mostly the fault of an incompetence and corrupt organization at Hanscom AFB. Specifically, the 06 Director and the SES that only saw the program as a cash cow to fund their bloated organization as the UEWR program was winding down… rather than spending the money to have the site analyzed (bore samples taken — as recommended by the then PM and Taiwan representatives to determine the stability of the slopes) they overruled the PM (they wanted the funds to pay for more slots in the organization). The statement used was by the 06 in turning down the request to do an analysis was “that is the contractors problem” — no RFP had be released at this point. That was only the beginning of the story of how Taiwan spent $1.3B on a radar with half of the capability they were promised. Taiwan was a victim of the well known incompetence and corruption of what was then ESC… (note: The KSA had been burned so bad by ESC on their programs that they eventually banned ESC’s MITRE (FFRDC) from participating on their programs).

  4. Allen Thomson

     /  August 10, 2013

    Speaking of using AN/TPY-2 radars for space surveillance,

    BMDS/SSA Integrated Sensing Demonstration (BISD)


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