The Story of the AN/TPQ-36 Weapon Locating Radar
The AN/TPQ-36 Weapon Locating Radar entered US Army service in 1982. At the time it was the most advanced weapon locating system of its kind in the world. In 1986, the Australian Army, seeking to replace the AN/KPQ-1 Mortar Locating Radar purchased the AN/TPQ-36.
At the time, Hughes had attempted to sell six of the radars to Pakistan but the sale was blocked by the US Government. Hughes offered the radars to Canada and Australia. Canada refused and Australia walked into an excellent deal.
When the purchase was completed, Australia took delivery of seven AN/TPQ-36 radars in 1987. The Army allocated the systems to 131 Div Loc Bty, the School of Artillery and the Army School of Electrical and Mechanical Engineers.
The radar system served Army well through the 80’s and 90’s and in 2005 was deployed on operations for the first time. Two radars and a nine-person detachment were allocated to support Al Muthanna Task Group -1 in Iraq. For the next three years, five radar sections were deployed to Iraq.
] Photo – John Menagh
Despite their relative age, the radars performed well, locating over 200 rocket attacks and providing early warning. Coupled with the radar capability, the detachments also conducted crater analysis and fragment identification. Subsequent analytical work produced the best Artillery Intelligence in the entire Iraq theatre with intelligence products reaching as far as the US NSA and CIA.
Interestingly, the original radars had a software glitch which meant the system also detected small arms fire. Although the US Army radars had been rectified, the Australian fleet was not. This capability to detect small arms fire was extremely valuable to building the intelligence picture over places like An Nasiriyah in Iraq. For example, the day in 2007 when Iraq beat Australia in a World Cup Soccer qualifying game, the Australian contingent learned of the win when the radars detected a massive volume of celebratory rifle over the city.
Suffering badly in the Iraqi conditions, the radars required constant maintenance. In 2006, one of the radars had to be replaced. Stoically, the AN/TPQ-36 detachment continued to provide valuable service until the very end in Iraq when OBG(W)-4 completed their tour and the commitment to Iraq ended.
In 2009, the radar fleet received a long-overdue mid-life upgrade known as the Raytheon Version 9 modifications. The fleet was modified over the next year. Before all of the bugs could be worked out and the fleet returned to its former glory, 20 STA Regt became decisively engaged in projecting the Unmanned Aerial System capability. Facing the sustainment of the ScanEagle system on operations in Afghanistan and having to introduce the Shadow 200 into service for operations, the Regiment was ordered to lay up the Weapon Locating Radar capability.
The AN/TPQ-36 was withdrawn from 20th STA Regt in 2011 and formally withdrawn from service in 2012. Of the seven radars, five were sold to the Netherlands, who subsequently donated them to the Ukraine’s. One radar was allocated to the Australian War Memorial and another to the Artillery Museum at Puckapunyal Victoria.