Since BAE Systems secured the $1 billion Project AIR 2025 Phase 6 contract in March 2018 to upgrade the JINDALEE Operational Radar Network (JORN), the company says it has made a smooth transfer from the previous operator (Lockheed Martin) towards the first incremental improvements.
Steve Wynd, BAE Systems’ JORN Phase 6 Programme Director, told journalists at Avalon 2019 that there are two separate 10-year contracts for the project running side: for the acquisition and implementation of the upgrade; and also sustainment of the system.
An important consideration is that, as they upgrade and transition the support services, sufficient capability is retained in the JORN system to perform its task, he stated.
JORN itself is a long-range, High Frequency (HF), over-the-horizon radar (OTHR) system, with a range in excess of 3,000km, that uses the ionosphere to bounce signals off to detect moving objects at long distances. The radars are situated in three locations: Laverton in Western Australia, Alice Springs in the Northern Territory and at Longreach in Queensland – all remote areas of the country.
The system includes a massive set of antenna arrays across the three sites. The antennas themselves stay in place, with the cabling, but everything else in the system is being upgraded under Phase 6 to extend its service life to at least 2042.
Wynd described the upgrade as “almost digitising JORN,” not unlike the process of moving from analogue to digital and mobile phones. “Digitising it in terms of all the electronics in the system… we are actually changing the software architecture to sit on a data backbone, which means JORN becomes a series of Apps that plug into that data backbone,” he explained.
Eleven months into the contract, Wynd said the move to take over operations from Lockheed Martin at the Long Reach and Laverton sites was conducted “seamlessly.” BAE Systems took on 80% of the technicians from the existing sites to ensure a smooth transition and that “the operators didn’t notice the change”, which is what the company sought to achieve.
BAE Systems has about 380 people working on JORN, with a further 70 focussed on export contracts. The company has started the systems engineering at the front end of the design as it moves towards the major review stage. With a lot of new hardware going into the system, Wynd pointed out that it poses risks: for example, the substitution of the analogue receiver with a digital one – the performance of that sensor is what has made JORN such an asset to date.
Two prototype receivers have been developed, using designs from the Department of Defence Science & Technology (DST) organisation. “In the original scope of Phase 6 the high-power amplifiers (HPA) were excluded from the scope,” Wynd said. “What we are now working on with Defence is looking at developing a new HPA, but not to go in when we upgrade the first radar. The first radar will upgrade the receiver chain, the transmit side exempt from the HPA. We will upgrade the lower power transmit chain later.”
In order for the system to be sustainable till the 2042 target date, there needs to be a way to find 20 years additional life in an HPA. There is an evolutionary development programme in place that will run in four phases, under which a new HPA will be installed during the upgrade of the second radar at Laverton. That will take place about seven years into the programme as it moves towards a solid-state amplifier.
“The way HPA works is there is a basic amplifier module – a card that is a 2-2.5 kW amplifier – and through the combining you can get to the 20 kW+ that you are looking for in that place, so as it adds up you end up with an HPA digital drive train per antenna,” Wynd said. “In addition, the other risk area is around the digital drive chain, so what we are developing under Phase 6 is a direct digital drive train so that the low power analogue signal gets generated out of the digital waveform. What that allows us to do is to quickly change or adapt to new waveforms and put them into the system.”
The programme is currently at Phase Zero, which is just developing the specifications of the HPA to assess feasibility and how it works, before moving on to another iteration and finalisating that specification.
“The performance of the radar will improve around that. The operator will get a better radar in terms of its ability and sensitivity,” Wynd said. “It comes in multiple ways. At the moment the way an HF radar works is in time slices… it does not cover the whole area at once. With a digital receiver it allows you to cover a bit more area within the time slots. It does not increase the distance – the range of JORN is about 3,000km – but the number of footprints you can put down in that area at a time – you can get more of them with the same performance [parameters] of the radar, or you can put more radar elements into that.”
The next stage in the programme will be a modification readiness review, then the team will start to install the hardware in parallel with the first radar and the command and control centre. Some of that hardware will start to be integrated at Long Reach from 2022.