Increased AN/TPQ-53 Counterfire Target Acquisition Radar Capabilities for Soldiers

A seamless link from development to production helped to distinguish a recent Department of Defense-awarded radar as one of the top five 2012 defense programs of excellence in systems engineering in October.

The AN/TPQ-53 Counterfire Target Acquisition Radar, more commonly referred to as Q-53, leveraged government, industry and academic organizations to provide U.S. soldiers with an advanced radar with 360-degree surveillance capabilities.

The Q-53 system is managed by Product Manager Radars, or PM Radars, with Lockheed Martin as the prime contractor, but the program traces its roots back to development work done in the Army’s Research, Development and Engineering Command’s communications-electronics center, or CERDEC, more than 10 years ago.

The effective transition from the science and technology community through to production was a distinguishing factor in recognizing the Q-53, said Leo Smith, Army representative to the selection committee and director of the Program of Record Engineering Support Directorate under the Assistant Secretary of the Army (Acquisition, Logistics and Technology) Office of the Chief System Engineer.

“This program was highly ranked across the representatives who selected this year’s winners, and it was one of the few programs that started as an [Army Technology Objective] or [Advanced Technology Development] funded effort that eventually transitioned across the ‘valley of death,’ where requirements change or the [science and technology] prime contractor doesn’t get a bid, etc.,” said Smith.

“Systems engineers from across CERDEC directorates along with quality assurance managers from CERDEC Product Realization Engineering and Quality Directorate, PRD, have been working hard for a number of years to make this critical program a reality and have succeeded in doing so,” said Ron Michel, CERDEC PRD director.

CERDEC first demonstrated the Q-53 technology concept in 2006 through its Army funded Multi-Mission Radar Advanced Technology Objective demonstration, said Hai Phu, a CERDEC Intelligence and Information Warfare Directorate, or I2WD, systems engineer working with PM Radars.

“I2WD started with the idea by collecting requirements to get approved by [Office of the Secretary of Defense], and we had five years of development and prototyping starting in 2001 [on the MMR ATO]. It then transitioned to PM RADARS and was picked up and developed into what we have right now with the Q-53,” said Phu.

Researchers referred to the ground work done across Army acquisition communities as a key factor in the success of the program starting with CERDEC’s identification of a possible Soldier need.

“Going back 10 plus years, CERDEC I2WD is credited with identifying the mission need and the technological solution and getting in front of the [TRADOC Capabilities Manager] Fire Brigade at Fort Sill and saying ‘This requirement doesn’t exist today, but it is a need of yours, and if you make it a requirement it can be met with technology that is now available,’” said David Lusk, a consultant from D&S Consultants Incorporated who works with I2WD and PM Radars.

Those involved in the Q-53 program utilized the late Rear Admiral Wayne E. Meyer’s “build-a-little, test-a-little, learn-a-lot” approach. Part of Q-53’s success was because of this method of incremental building and testing of technologies and systems to increase efficiency when developing systems, according to Lusk.

“There were technical reviews along the way to ensure the design was progressing as it should, was meeting requirements and was meeting what the user ultimately wants,” said Daniel Foster, Booz Allen Hamilton consultant working at PM Radars.

The Q-53 program is also applying additional systems engineering rigor through the Life Cycle Signature Support Plan, which is a “living document” that allows for new threats to be identified in theater and accounted for, said Jessy Chacko, a CERDEC I2WD systems engineer working at PM Radars.

Accounting for new threats to the Soldier is also part of the systems engineering process for incorporating engineering design changes to defeat those threats.

“Systems engineering incorporates multiple engineering disciplines and reduces risk by providing an ordered process that ensures you’ve looked at all available courses of action,” said Frank Vellella, PM Radar’s chief engineer and CERDEC PRD’s radar branch chief, currently assigned to CERDEC’s Systems Engineering Office. “Without it you’re kind of scatter brained; this allows you to break things down logically and reduce risks over the product’s lifecycle because you know you have looked at everything.”

The Q-53 quick reaction capability system first deployed in 2010. The program was awarded its Milestone C decision in February, meaning the DoD approved Q-53 to start its low-rate initial production, and the first LRIP program of record system will deploy in a few months, said Phu.

“In the DoD lifecycle you come to Milestone C, which is essentially the gate between finishing your engineering and development and going into production,” said Foster.


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