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No Flying Under this Radar

This system, refitted with the latest technology, has a new mission

This radar receive site in Virginia, has a 1.6 mile-array of 372 pairs of 19-foot-long antennas. There are also sites in Texas and Puerto Rico.

One of the biggest changes in early detection radar is what it detects.

When Raytheon first developed an early warning radar for the U.S. Department of Defense, the idea was to track Soviet bombers, so the radar's gaze was directed toward the north. Today, the Relocatable Over-the-Horizon Radar  has been enhanced for the 21st Century, with faster processors, better displays and operator tools, high-performance computers and other cutting-edge technology. Now it looks to the south, the better to find private planes smuggling cocaine, go-fast boats with contraband and other bad actors.

"It’s a critical asset that contributes to our nation's safety every day,” said Timothy Dotson, Raytheon ROTHR program manager.

ROTHR works by refracting radar signals off the ionosphere, where they bounce to the ground and back up again to spot aircraft at any altitude or boats on the water. Raytheon designed and built the system for the U.S. Navy, and has provided operations support and maintenance since 1986. 

The Navy’s Naval Supply Systems Command just awarded Raytheon a five-year contract to continue running and maintaining ROTHR, which is the primary long-range air detection system for the Joint Interagency Task Force South. JIATF-S coordinates interdiction of illicit trafficking and other narco-terrorist threats to U.S. national security.

“Our team works closely with the Navy and the Joint Task Force, tracking hundreds of traffickers every year and helping to keep illicit materials from entering our borders,” said Dave Wajsgras, president of Raytheon’s Intelligence, Information and Services business.

The system is always on, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. In just one interdiction, ROTHR operations led directly to the seizure of 4.5 metric tons of cocaine, valued at about $90 million.

The ROTHR system surveillance area covers more than 10 million square miles of land and water. It is composed of a transmit array and a receiving array in Texas, Virginia and Puerto Rico. The transmit sites radiate three overlapping wedges that blanket the transit and source zones of narcotic trafficking. The returning waves are captured by a 1.6-mile receiving array with 372 pairs of 19-foot-long antennas. the signals are forwarded to the Navy Operations Control Center in Virginia.

“The ROTHR control center is fairly unique within the Department of Defense, because it’s staffed entirely by civilian contractors from Raytheon,” Dotson said. “Normally, you’d have military operators on the watch floor of a DoD system like this, but the benefit of this arrangement to mission and radar performance has been dramatic. That's thanks to the continuity and experience of contractor operators, who do not have to transfer duty stations every two to three years.”

While the system may have been built in the late 80s, “it’s definitely state of the art today,” said Raytheon's Dotson. "We’ve modernized and upgraded almost everything on the system multiple times."

For the Task Force, ROTHR finds and continuously tracks the bad guys, allowing a response that coordinates efforts from agencies such as US Customs, the Coast Guard and DoD.  

"And we do it for a very low cost,” Dotson said. “It would take many, many more assets, ships and planes, and a lot more money to provide comparable coverage."

This document does not contain technology or technical data controlled under either the U.S. International Traffic in Arms Regulations or the U.S. Export Administration Regulations. E16-XRTC.

Last Updated: 05/02/2016

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