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The Navy’s New Radar Ship Gets its Radars

by John Reed on October 18, 2011

So, the Navy is one step closer to fielding its newest radar ship the USNS Howard O. Lorenzen.

Raytheon just installed 240-ton X– and S-band phased array radar antennas on the ship, the ship and its huge antennas will replace the 60-year old USNS Observation Island and its 1970s-vintage Cobra Judy ballistic missile tracking radars that are fast becoming obsolete.

The Navy’s little known radar ships are straight out of a Cold War thriller or a sci-fi movie. They’re usually converted cargo ships from the 1940s and 1950s that have massive radar arrays mounted on their decks. These ships and their radars are used to track everything from ballistic missile launches to satellites in space.

(The Observation Island actually started its Navy career as a launch platform to test new missile technology. In 1960, it was the first ship to launch the Polaris ballistic missile.)

The Lorenzen however, is Navy’s the first purpose-built radar ship — they’re officially called Missile Range Instrumentation Ships — and last year the Navy refused to accept her from the builder, VT Halter Marine, after finding numerous defects on board. Since then, the company has been working to fix the problems and get the radars installed so that the ship can go out for a new round of sea trials as soon as possible. Note, the problems had nothing to do with the radars.

Click through the jump to see some great pictures of ther radar ships:

The USNS Observation Island showing its Cobra Judy radar.

The USNS Invincible, She and the Observation Island are currently the only Missile Range Instrumentation Ships in service with the Navy.

The USNS Vanguard. Here’s what the old T2 tanker looked like just before being converted to a missile tracking ship.

The USNS Range Sentinel.

The USNS Sword Knot which also served as a radar ship for the Air Force in the 1950s and 1960s.

This behemoth is the Soviet space tracking ship, Kosmonaut Yuri Gagarin. She was, at one time, the world’s largest communications ship. The ship was built in 1971 to detect and receive space communications.

Here’s an old U.S. Army radar ship, the USAS American Mariner.

 

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