Raytheon Company’s first big break in radars came in 1942, when chief engineer Percy L. Spencer found a way to mass-produce magnetrons, the part of a radar that emits the signal. The Allies needed them desperately, but at the time, there was no way to make them quickly – the company could produce only 17 a week.
As the story goes, Spencer was sitting at his desk, deep in thought, fidgeting with a handful of coins on the desktop. Inspiration hit. Spencer imagined a way to stack the magnetrons like those coins, laying solder between them. He devised a stamping system that worked like a cookie cutter.
The company filed for a patent and secured a contract with the U.S. Navy in 1942. By the end of World War II in 1945, Raytheon was manufacturing over 80 percent of magnetrons for the Allied forces.
"Out were coming magnetrons like sausages in a factory. That landed Raytheon the contract," said Chet Michalak, a principal technical support engineer at Raytheon Missiles & Defense, echoing the way former Raytheon President Charles Francis Adams described it in a documentary about the company. "It is still something we use today. It is the heart of every Patriot radar."
Building on success
The early Navy contract and the growth it brought to the company “is one of the defining points” in Raytheon’s history, said Jonathan Grenier, principal specialist administrator at Raytheon Missiles & Defense.
The next major breakthrough in radars came in the 1970s, when the company began research in the use of the semiconductor gallium arsenide. That paved the way for a new class of lower-cost phased array radars that could be built from modules tiled together to work as a single unit. Those radars brought marked improvements in range, energy efficiency and overall reliability, said Colin Whelan, president of Advanced Technology at Raytheon Missiles & Defense.
"Raytheon quickly became known as the phased-array radar place with the latest and greatest technology," Whelan said.
A strong foundation
That reputation grew even further in the late 1990s, when Raytheon applied the lessons of gallium arsenide to introduce gallium nitride, a glass-like material that is five times more powerful. Gallium nitride offered engineers significant flexibility – they could either design radars that saw about 50 percent farther than the current models, or they could build current-state radars at about half the size and cost.
"You can use the technology to trade off size, weight, cost – so gallium nitride made it possible to make a radar smaller, more powerful and affordable," said Whelan. "Raytheon's pioneering work in gallium nitride also allowed us to introduce this new technology first to radars, and that is why Raytheon was selected to produce many large U.S. defense systems."
Today, gallium nitride powers the next generation of missile-defense radars that are taking Raytheon Technologies into the future, including the Lower Tier Air and Missile Defense Sensor, or LTAMDS.
It’s also powering radars in other military domains. For example, a new radar known as PhantomStrike will put the fire control capabilities of a fighter jet on practically any airborne platform; and the SPY-6 family of radars performs air and missile defense on seven classes of U.S. Navy ships.
"We have studied the radar mission set from every possible angle that is out there," said Joe DeAntona, the requirements and capabilities executive for land warfare and air defense at Raytheon Missiles & Defense. "Because we have been doing that for such a long period of time, we have built a foundation of expertise and understanding that positions us to continue to be the leader in the future."