The Swiss Army knife of radars

For soldiers, the KuRFS radar does it all and all at once

A small object takes flight, picks up speed, turns and heads south — directly toward a U.S. military base.

It could be anything from a guided rocket to an explosive-strapped quadcopter. Back at the post, a Ku-band, or KuRFS radar detects and tracks the object so soldiers can make the call: It’s nothing to worry about. Just another bird.

One of the radar’s many important jobs is to know the difference.

“It’s like a Swiss Army knife with all the components out and being used at once; the corkscrew, the knife — everything,” said Don Williams, manager of Raytheon Missiles & Defense Multifunction RF Systems product line. “The Army recognizes it as a true multi-mission radar because, unlike other radars, which can do multiple things but not at the same time, KuRFS does them all simultaneously.”

Designed and built by Raytheon Missiles & Defense, KuRFS is an advanced electronically scanned array, or AESA, radar that uses the ku-band frequency for precision tracking. One of its main missions is to provide nonstop surveillance of airborne objects, while another is to sense incoming threats such as rockets, artillery or mortars and warn soldiers so they can take cover.

he radar is being deployed as part of a counter-unmanned aircraft system for the battlefield. When paired with Raytheon Missiles & Defense's small, expendable Coyote® UAS, normally an intelligence and surveillance drone, KuRFS becomes a hit-to-kill kinetic interceptor that can take out small, consumer-sized drones.

The U.S. Army has taken the unique combination a step further, putting Coyote and KuRFS on an armored vehicle to create a mobile defense system. In addition, the business has successfully integrated the radar into or tested it with a 50-caliber gun, the AI3 interceptor, land-based Phalanx® weapon system and more.

“Soldiers will now be able to take this defense against drones into the field with them, in addition to having it on their base,” Williams said. “Drone threats are spiking and becoming more creative, and they’re hard to see. That’s one reason why this radar is so important.”

In August and September, KuRFS also cued targets during a test with Raytheon Intelligence & Space's high-energy laser weapons systems. 

“Before the laser system can destroy small drones from far away, it first needs to be able to know they are there,” said Dr. Ben Allison, product line director for the business' high-energy laser weapons systems. “KuRFS provides cue accuracy at long range. That level of precision, paired with the ability to simultaneously track multiple targets, makes high-energy lasers more lethal.”

Perhaps the best trick up KuRFS’ sleeve is its ability to add more tools for future needs. In 2009, the Army put out an urgent request for a way to better warn about incoming rockets and mortars; just 19 months later, KuRFS went from idea to deployed product.

The timeline was met by scaling down the larger Ka-MRFS radar, using open-architecture software, tapping its vast pre-existing line of radars for proven parts like processors, and adding new technology taken from its internal research and development efforts.

The result was KuRFS. Today’s version includes several upgrades over the original, and the radar system itself is nearing its millionth hour of operational time. As such, it’s become a prime example of how the Army’s vision for faster development of adaptable technology is already taking place.

“We talk with the Army users on a regular basis, and they tell us what else they now need it to do,” Williams said. “One cool factor with this setup is that we can now develop and deploy a critical, software-based capability to them in just three months, instead of the year it used to take. It makes all the difference to keeping soldiers on the ground safe.”