MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Va. -- For the Marine Corps’ Ground/Air Task Oriented Radar program office, reaching initial operating capability is a big deal—a momentous occasion, in fact. The one-of-a-kind radar system is more than 10 years in the making, but will help the Corps outpace emerging threats for decades to come.
“Most people, even in the acquisition field, don’t understand how long it takes to deliver a radar [to the fleet]—it’s a complex system, and the services only build them every 30 to 40 years,” said John Karlovich, program manager for GATOR/Ground-based Air Defense within Program Executive Officer Land Systems.
Unlike some other weapon systems, a radar is not something the military can buy commercially. They must be designed and customized to meet the precise needs of the service.
“We pretty much start with a clean sheet of paper and go from how to develop it, through development, to fielding and then sustainment,” he said. “The bulk of the 10-plus years to get to fielding was engineering and test centric, but the last year and a half and through the life of the system is sustainment and life-cycle support centric.”
For G/ATOR, that life cycle will be 30 years or more.
“A program—regardless of size or complexity—goes through the same steps, but there are transition points; we’re in a transition point,” said Maj. James Thompson, military deputy for operations in the G/ATOR program office. “Once the system is fielded, you have to focus on spares, life-cycle sustainment, and operational assessment—meaning once you put the system in the hands of Marines, how are they going to use it? So now that we've fielded G/ATOR, we'll go through continued observation and user feedback, but at the same time, we have to sustain the systems we're putting out there.”
The program office works with Marine Corps Logistics Command, Global Combat Support System-Marine Corps, and Marine Corps Systems Command’s supply entities to coordinate sustainment and logistics requirements.
The road to IOC was long, but it was worth the wait because Marines are now getting a system that will reap benefits for many years, Karlovich said.
G/ATOR is a next-generation sensor that works in concert with the Corps’ existing Common Aviation Command and Control System, or CAC2S, and the Composite Tracking Network to provide connectivity with joint forces as well as across the Marine Air-Ground Task Force. It replaces five legacy systems (two of which have been retired) with a single solution, and is the first air-cooled, active-array radar of its kind in the Department of Defense. G/ATOR is lightweight, rugged and can be towed by the Medium Tactical Vehicle Replacement, and provides increased range and accuracy over the legacy systems. An application-based software system allows G/ATOR to support both air and ground-based operations.
“This team took [G/ATOR] from concept to fielding—we delivered the most capable expeditionary ground radar of its kind,” Karlovich said. “It’s a quantum leap forward compared to existing radars, and does exactly what it’s supposed to do in terms of providing dominant, peer/near-peer capabilities to the warfighter.”
Two aviation units—Marine Air Control Squadron 1 in Yuma, Arizona, and MACS 2 in Cherry Point, N.C.—received their G/ATORs last month. They will put the systems through their paces during the Weapons and Tactics Instructor Course 2-18 exercise in Yuma in April.
“I think we’ll get a lot of feedback from the Marines involved in that exercise because they can use [G/ATOR] the way they want to, rather than from a scripted test perspective,” said Thompson. “They will use this system in ways we never thought possible.”
As part of the operational testing phase, members of the G/ATOR team will travel to Yuma to observe the Marines using the radar, and collect data about any issues or problems they encounter. The exercise will also give the team an opportunity to gather feedback from the broader aviation community.
“WTI 2-18 involves the entire Air Combat Element, so they will all be paying attention to what this system can do and what [the Marines] are capable of doing now,” Thompson said.
In all, the Corps will field 45 G/ATOR systems Marine Corps-wide by 2024. The next unit to receive it will be the 11th Marine Regiment at Camp Pendleton, California.
“We’re not about having fair fights; we’re about fielding a dominant capability,” Karlovich said. “After undergoing a major reorganization and reset to the program in 2010, we’ve maintained constant schedule and performance requirements ever since. A lot of hard work was done by a lot of folks well before I got here to get us to this point. I’m very proud of this team.”