A long-range radar antenna, known as ALTAIR, used to detect and track space objects in conjunction with ABM testing at the Ronald Reagan Test Site on Kwajalein Atoll.
Israeli military radar is typical of the type of radar used for air traffic control. The antenna rotates at a steady rate, sweeping the local airspace with a narrow vertical fan-shaped beam, to detect aircraft at all altitudes.
This Melbourne base Primary and secondary radar is used for air traffic control and to observe terminal area conflicts by VFR local aircraft.

Radar is an object-detection system which uses electromagnetic waves—specifically radio waves—to determine the range, altitude, direction, or speed of both moving and fixed objects such as aircraft, ships, spacecraft, guided missiles, motor vehicles, weather formations, and terrain. The radar dish, or antenna, transmits pulses of radio waves or microwaves which bounce off any object in their path. The object returns a tiny part of the wave's energy to a dish or antenna which is usually located at the same site as the transmitter.

The military applications of radar were developed in secret in nations across the world during World War II. The term RADAR was coined in 1940 by the U.S. Navy as an acronym for radio detection and ranging.[1][2] The term radar has since entered the English and other languages as the common noun radar, losing all capitalization. In the United Kingdom, the technology was initially called RDF (range and direction finding), using the same initials used for radio direction finding to conceal its ranging capability[citation needed].

The modern uses of radar are highly diverse, including air traffic control, radar astronomy, air-defense systems, antimissile systems; nautical radars to locate landmarks and other ships; aircraft anticollision systems; ocean-surveillance systems, outer-space surveillance and rendezvous systems; meteorological precipitation monitoring; altimetry and flight-control systems; guided-missile target-locating systems; and ground-penetrating radar for geological observations. High tech radar systems are associated with digital signal processing and are capable of extracting objects from very high noise levels.

Other systems similar to radar have been used in other parts of the electromagnetic spectrum. One example is "lidar", which uses visible light from lasers rather than radio waves.



Several inventors, scientists, and engineers contributed to the development of radar.

As early as 1886, Heinrich Hertz showed that radio waves could be reflected from solid objects. In 1895 Alexander Popov, a physics instructor at the Imperial Russian Navy school in Kronstadt, developed an apparatus using a coherer tube for detecting distant lightning strikes. The next year, he added a spark-gap transmitter. During 1897, while testing this in communicating between two ships in the Baltic Sea, he took note of an interference beat caused by the passage of a third vessel. In his report, Popov wrote that this phenomenon might be used for detecting objects, but he did nothing more with this observation.[3]

The German Christian Huelsmeyer was the first to use radio waves to detect "the presence of distant metallic objects". In 1904 he demonstrated the feasibility of detecting a ship in dense fog, but not its distance.[4] He received Reichspatent Nr. 165546[5] for his detection device in April 1904, and later patent 169154[6] for a related amendment for also determining the distance to the ship. He also received a British patent on September 23, 1904[7] for the first full Radar application, which he called telemobiloscope.

A Chain Home tower in Great Baddow, United Kingdom

In August 1917 Nikola Tesla outlined a concept for primitive radar units.[8] He stated, "[...] by their [standing electromagnetic waves] use we may produce at will, from a sending station, an electrical effect in any particular region of the globe; [with which] we may determine the relative position or course of a moving object, such as a vessel at sea, the distance traversed by the same, or its speed."

In 1922 A. Hoyt Taylor and Leo C. Young, researchers working with the U.S. Navy, discovered that when radio waves were broadcast at 60 MHz it was possible to determine the range and bearing of nearby ships in the Potomac River. Despite Taylor's suggestion that this method could be used in darkness and low visibility, the Navy did not immediately continue the work.[9] Serious investigation began eight years later after the discovery that radar could be used to track airplanes.[10]

Before the Second World War, researchers in France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States, independently and in great secrecy, developed technologies that led to the modern version of radar. Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and South Africa followed prewar Great Britain, and Hungary had similar developments during the war.[11]

In 1934 the Frenchman Émile Girardeau stated he was building an obstacle-locating radio apparatus "conceived according to the principles stated by Tesla" and obtained a patent (French Patent n° 788795 in 1934) for a working system. [12][13][14] A part of which was installed on the Normandie liner in 1935.[15]

During the same year, the Soviet military engineer P.K.Oschepkov, in collaboration with Leningrad Electrophysical Institute, produced an experimental apparatus, RAPID, capable of detecting an aircraft within 3 km of a receiver.[16] The French and Soviet systems, however, had continuous-wave operation and could not give the full performance that was ultimately at the center of modern radar.

Full radar evolved as a pulsed system, and the first such elementary apparatus was demonstrated in December 1934 by the American Robert M. Page, working at the Naval Research Laboratory.[17] The year after the US Army successfully tested a primitive surface to surface radar to aim coastal battery search lights at night. [18] This was followed by a pulsed system demonstrated in May 1935 by Rudolf Kühnhold and the firm GEMA in Germany and then one in June 1935 by an Air Ministry team led by Robert A. Watson Watt in Great Britain. Later, in 1943, Page greatly improved radar with the monopulse technique that was then used for many years in most radar applications.[19]

The British were the first to fully exploit radar as a defence against aircraft attack. This was spurred on by fears that the Germans were developing death rays.[20] The Air Ministry asked British scientists in 1934 to investigate the possibility of propagating electromagnetic energy and the likely effect. Following a study, they concluded that a death ray was impractical but that detection of aircraft appeared feasible.[20] Robert Watson Watt's team demonstrated to his superiors the capabilities of a working prototype and then patented the device (British Patent GB593017).[14][21][22] It served as the basis for the Chain Home network of radars to defend Great Britain. In April 1940, Popular Science showed an example of a radar unit using the Watson-Watt patent in an article on air defence, but not knowing that the U.S. Army and U.S. Navy were working on radars with the same principle, stated under the illustration, "This is not U.S. Army equipment."[23] Also, in late 1941 Popular Mechanics had an article in which a US scientist conjured what he believed the British early warning system on the English east coast most likely looked like and was very close to what it actually was and how it worked in principle. [24]

The war precipitated research to find better resolution, more portability, and more features for radar, including complementary navigation systems like Oboe used by the RAF's Pathfinder. The postwar years have seen the use of radar in fields as diverse as air traffic control, weather monitoring, astrometry, and road speed control.


Commercial marine radar antenna. The rotating antenna radiates a vertical fan-shaped beam.

The information provided by radar includes the bearing and range (and therefore position) of the object from the radar scanner. It is thus used in many different fields where the need for such positioning is crucial. The first use of radar was for military purposes: to locate air, ground and sea targets. This evolved in the civilian field into applications for aircraft, ships, and roads.

In aviation, aircraft are equipped with radar devices that warn of obstacles in or approaching their path and give accurate altitude readings. The first commercial device fitted to aircraft was a 1938 Bell Lab unit on some United Air Lines aircraft. [25] They can land in fog at airports equipped with radar-assisted ground-controlled approach (GCA) systems, in which the plane's flight is observed on radar screens while operators radio landing directions to the pilot.

Marine radars are used to measure the bearing and distance of ships to prevent collision with other ships, to navigate and to fix their position at sea when within range of shore or other fixed references such as islands, buoys, and lightships. In port or in harbour, vessel traffic service radar systems are used to monitor and regulate ship movements in busy waters. Police forces use radar guns to monitor vehicle speeds on the roads.

Meteorologists use radar to monitor precipitation. It has become the primary tool for short-term weather forecasting and to watch for severe weather such as thunderstorms, tornadoes, winter storms, precipitation types, etc. Geologists use specialised ground-penetrating radars to map the composition of the Earth's crust.


A radar system has a transmitter that emits radio waves called radar signals in predetermined directions. When these come into contact with an object they are usually reflected and/or scattered in many directions. Radar signals are reflected especially well by materials of considerable electrical conductivity—especially by most metals, by seawater, by wet land, and by wetlands. Some of these make the use of radar altimeters possible. The radar signals that are reflected back towards the transmitter are the desirable ones that make radar work. If the object is moving either closer or farther away, there is a slight change in the frequency of the radio waves, due to the Doppler effect.

Radar receivers are usually, but not always, in the same location as the transmitter. Although the reflected radar signals captured by the receiving antenna are usually very weak, these signals can be strengthened by the electronic amplifiers that all radar sets contain. More sophisticated methods of signal processing are also nearly always used in order to recover useful radar signals.

The weak absorption of radio waves by the medium through which it passes is what enables radar sets to detect objects at relatively-long ranges—ranges at which other electromagnetic wavelengths, such as visible light, infrared light, and ultraviolet light, are too strongly attenuated. Such things as fog, clouds, rain, falling snow, and sleet that block visible light are usually transparent to radio waves. Certain, specific radio frequencies that are absorbed or scattered by water vapor, raindrops, or atmospheric gases (especially oxygen) are avoided in designing radars except when detection of these is intended.

Finally, radar relies on its own transmissions, rather than light from the Sun or the Moon, or from electromagnetic waves emitted by the objects themselves, such as infrared wavelengths (heat). This process of directing artificial radio waves towards objects is called illumination, regardless of the fact that radio waves are completely invisible to the human eye or cameras.


Brightness can indicate reflectivity as in this 1960 weather radar image (of Hurricane Abby). The radar's frequency, pulse form, polarization, signal processing, and antenna determine what it can observe.

Electromagnetic waves reflect (scatter) from any large change in the dielectric constant or diamagnetic constants. This means that a solid object in air or a vacuum, or other significant change in atomic density between the object and what is surrounding it, will usually scatter radar (radio) waves. This is particularly true for electrically conductive materials, such as metal and carbon fiber, making radar particularly well suited to the detection of aircraft and ships. Radar absorbing material, containing resistive and sometimes magnetic substances, is used on military vehicles to reduce radar reflection. This is the radio equivalent of painting something a dark color so that it cannot be seen through normal means (see stealth technology).

Radar waves scatter in a variety of ways depending on the size (wavelength) of the radio wave and the shape of the target. If the wavelength is much shorter than the target's size, the wave will bounce off in a way similar to the way light is reflected by a mirror. If the wavelength is much longer than the size of the target, the target may not be visible due to poor reflection. Low Frequency radar technology is dependent on resonances for detection, but not identification, of targets. This is described by Rayleigh scattering, an effect that creates the Earth's blue sky and red sunsets. When the two length scales are comparable, there may be resonances. Early radars used very long wavelengths that were larger than the targets and received a vague signal, whereas some modern systems use shorter wavelengths (a few centimeters or shorter) that can image objects as small as a loaf of bread.

Short radio waves reflect from curves and corners, in a way similar to glint from a rounded piece of glass. The most reflective targets for short wavelengths have 90° angles between the reflective surfaces. A structure consisting of three flat surfaces meeting at a single corner, like the corner on a box, will always reflect waves entering its opening directly back at the source. These so-called corner reflectors are commonly used as radar reflectors to make otherwise difficult-to-detect objects easier to detect, and are often found on boats in order to improve their detection in a rescue situation and to reduce collisions.

For similar reasons, objects attempting to avoid detection will angle their surfaces in a way to eliminate inside corners and avoid surfaces and edges perpendicular to likely detection directions, which leads to "odd" looking stealth aircraft. These precautions do not completely eliminate reflection because of diffraction, especially at longer wavelengths. Half wavelength long wires or strips of conducting material, such as chaff, are very reflective but do not direct the scattered energy back toward the source. The extent to which an object reflects or scatters radio waves is called its radar cross section.

Radar equation

The power Pr returning to the receiving antenna is given by the radar equation:

P_r = {{P_t G_t  A_r \sigma F^4}\over{{(4\pi)}^2 R_t^2R_r^2}}


  • Pt = transmitter power
  • Gt = gain of the transmitting antenna
  • Ar = effective aperture (area) of the receiving antenna
  • σ = radar cross section, or scattering coefficient, of the target
  • F = pattern propagation factor
  • Rt = distance from the transmitter to the target
  • Rr = distance from the target to the receiver.

In the common case where the transmitter and the receiver are at the same location, Rt = Rr and the term Rt² Rr² can be replaced by R4, where R is the range. This yields:

P_r = {{P_t G_t  A_r \sigma F^4}\over{{(4\pi)}^2 R^4}}.

This shows that the received power declines as the fourth power of the range, which means that the reflected power from distant targets is very, very small.

The equation above with F = 1 is a simplification for vacuum without interference. The propagation factor accounts for the effects of multipath and shadowing and depends on the details of the environment. In a real-world situation, pathloss effects should also be considered.

This is slightly different for pulse-Doppler radar.

Doppler effect

Ground-based radar systems used for detecting speeds rely on the Doppler effect. The apparent frequency (f) of the wave changes with the relative position of the target. The doppler equation is stated as follows for vobs (the radial speed of the observer) and vs (the radial speed of the target) and f0 frequency of wave :

 f = {{v+v_{obs}}\over{v-v_s}}f_0

However, the change in phase of the return signal is often used instead of the change in frequency. It is to be noted that only the radial component of the speed is available. Hence when a target is moving at right angle to the radar beam, it has no velocity while one parallel to it has maximum recorded speed even if both might have the same real absolute motion.


In the transmitted radar signal, the electric field is perpendicular to the direction of propagation, and this direction of the electric field is the polarization of the wave. Radars use horizontal, vertical, linear and circular polarization to detect different types of reflections. For example, circular polarization is used to minimize the interference caused by rain. Linear polarization returns usually indicate metal surfaces. Random polarization returns usually indicate a fractal surface, such as rocks or soil, and are used by navigation radars.

Limiting factors

Beam path and range

Echo heights above ground

The radar beam would follow a linear path in vacuum but it really follows a somewhat curved path in the atmosphere due to the variation of the refractive index of air. Even when the beam is emitted parallel to the ground, it will raise above it as the Earth curvature sink below the horizon. Furthermore, the signal is attenuated by the medium it crosses and the beam disperse as its not a perfect pencil shape.

The maximum range of a conventional radar can either be limited by a number of factors:

  1. Line of sight, which depends on height above ground.
  2. The maximum non-ambiguous range (MUR) which is determined by the Pulse repetition frequency (PRF). Simply put, MUR is the distance the pulse could travel and return before the next pulse is emitted.
  3. Radar sensitivity and power of the return signal as computed in the radar equation. This includes factors such as environmentals and the size (or radar cross section) of the target.


Signal noise is an internal source of random variations in the signal, which is generated by all electronic components. Noise typically appears as random variations superimposed on the desired echo signal received in the radar receiver. The lower the power of the desired signal, the more difficult it is to discern it from the noise (similar to trying to hear a whisper while standing near a busy road). Noise figure is a measure of the noise produced by a receiver compared to an ideal receiver, and this needs to be minimized.

Noise is also generated by external sources, most importantly the natural thermal radiation of the background scene surrounding the target of interest. In modern radar systems, due to the high performance of their receivers, the internal noise is typically about equal to or lower than the external scene noise. An exception is if the radar is aimed upwards at clear sky, where the scene is so "cold" that it generates very little thermal noise.

There will be also flicker noise due to electrons transit, but depending on 1/f, will be much lower than thermal noise when the frequency is high. Hence, in pulse radar, the system will be always heterodyne. See intermediate frequency.


Radar systems must overcome unwanted signals in order to focus only on the actual targets of interest. These unwanted signals may originate from internal and external sources, both passive and active. The ability of the radar system to overcome these unwanted signals defines its signal-to-noise ratio (SNR). SNR is defined as the ratio of a signal power to the noise power within the desired signal.

In less technical terms, SNR compares the level of a desired signal (such as targets) to the level of background noise. The higher a system's SNR, the better it is in isolating actual targets from the surrounding noise signals.


Clutter refers to radio frequency (RF) echoes returned from targets which are uninteresting to the radar operators. Such targets include natural objects such as ground, sea, precipitation (such as rain, snow or hail), sand storms, animals (especially birds), atmospheric turbulence, and other atmospheric effects, such as ionosphere reflections, meteor trails, and three body scatter spike. Clutter may also be returned from man-made objects such as buildings and, intentionally, by radar countermeasures such as chaff.

Some clutter may also be caused by a long radar waveguide between the radar transceiver and the antenna. In a typical plan position indicator (PPI) radar with a rotating antenna, this will usually be seen as a "sun" or "sunburst" in the centre of the display as the receiver responds to echoes from dust particles and misguided RF in the waveguide. Adjusting the timing between when the transmitter sends a pulse and when the receiver stage is enabled will generally reduce the sunburst without affecting the accuracy of the range, since most sunburst is caused by a diffused transmit pulse reflected before it leaves the antenna.

While some clutter sources may be undesirable for some radar applications (such as storm clouds for air-defence radars), they may be desirable for others (meteorological radars in this example). Clutter is considered a passive interference source, since it only appears in response to radar signals sent by the radar.

There are several methods of detecting and neutralizing clutter. Many of these methods rely on the fact that clutter tends to appear static between radar scans. Therefore, when comparing subsequent scans echoes, desirable targets will appear to move and all stationary echoes can be eliminated. Sea clutter can be reduced by using horizontal polarization, while rain is reduced with circular polarization (note that meteorological radars wish for the opposite effect, therefore using linear polarization the better to detect precipitation). Other methods attempt to increase the signal-to-clutter ratio.

The most effective clutter reduction technique is pulse-Doppler radar. Doppler separates clutter from aircraft and spacecraft using a frequency spectrum, so individual signals can be separated from multiple reflectors located in the same volume using velocity differences. This requires a coherent transmitter.

The next most effective technique is moving target indicator that subtracts the receive signal from two successive pulses using phase to reduce signals from slow moving objects. This can be adapted for systems that lack a coherent transmitter, such as time-domain pulse-amplitude radar.

Clutter environments require an adaptive detection threshold.

Constant False Alarm Rate (CFAR, a form of Automatic Gain Control, or AGC) is a method relying on the fact that clutter returns far outnumber echoes from targets of interest. The receiver's gain is automatically adjusted to maintain a constant level of overall visible clutter. While this does not help detect targets masked by stronger surrounding clutter, it does help to distinguish strong target sources. In the past, radar AGC was electronically controlled and affected the gain of the entire radar receiver. As radars evolved, AGC became computer-software controlled, and affected the gain with greater granularity, in specific detection cells.

Radar multipath echoes from a target cause ghosts to appear.

Clutter may also originate from multipath echoes from valid targets due to ground reflection, atmospheric ducting or ionospheric reflection/refraction (e.g. Anomalous propagation). This clutter type is especially bothersome, since it appears to move and behave like other normal (point) targets of interest, thereby creating a ghost. In a typical scenario, an aircraft echo is multipath-reflected from the ground below, appearing to the receiver as an identical target below the correct one. The radar may try to unify the targets, reporting the target at an incorrect height, or—worse—eliminating it on the basis of jitter or a physical impossibility. These problems can be overcome by incorporating a ground map of the radar's surroundings and eliminating all echoes which appear to originate below ground or above a certain height. In newer Air Traffic Control (ATC) radar equipment, algorithms are used to identify the false targets by comparing the current pulse returns, to those adjacent, as well as calculating return improbabilities due to calculated height, distance, and radar timing.


Radar jamming refers to radio frequency signals originating from sources outside the radar, transmitting in the radar's frequency and thereby masking targets of interest. Jamming may be intentional, as with an electronic warfare (EW) tactic, or unintentional, as with friendly forces operating equipment that transmits using the same frequency range. Jamming is considered an active interference source, since it is initiated by elements outside the radar and in general unrelated to the radar signals.

Jamming is problematic to radar since the jamming signal only needs to travel one-way (from the jammer to the radar receiver) whereas the radar echoes travel two-ways (radar-target-radar) and are therefore significantly reduced in power by the time they return to the radar receiver. Jammers therefore can be much less powerful than their jammed radars and still effectively mask targets along the line of sight from the jammer to the radar (Mainlobe Jamming). Jammers have an added effect of affecting radars along other lines of sight, due to the radar receiver's sidelobes (Sidelobe Jamming).

Mainlobe jamming can generally only be reduced by narrowing the mainlobe solid angle, and can never fully be eliminated when directly facing a jammer which uses the same frequency and polarization as the radar. Sidelobe jamming can be overcome by reducing receiving sidelobes in the radar antenna design and by using an omnidirectional antenna to detect and disregard non-mainlobe signals. Other anti-jamming techniques are frequency hopping and polarization. See Electronic counter-counter-measures for details.

Interference has recently become a problem for C-band (5.66 GHz) meteorological radars with the proliferation of 5.4 GHz band WiFi equipment.[citation needed]

Radar signal processing

Distance measurement

Transit time

Pulse radar: The round-trip time for the radar pulse to get to the target and return is measured. The distance is proportional to this time.
Continuous wave (CW) radar

One way to measure the distance to an object is to transmit a short pulse of radio signal (electromagnetic radiation), and measure the time it takes for the reflection to return. The distance is one-half the product of the round trip time (because the signal has to travel to the target and then back to the receiver) and the speed of the signal. Since radio waves travel at the speed of light (186,000 miles per second or 300,000,000 meters per second), accurate distance measurement requires high-performance electronics.

In most cases, the receiver does not detect the return while the signal is being transmitted. Through the use of a device called a duplexer, the radar switches between transmitting and receiving at a predetermined rate. The minimum range is calculated by measuring the length of the pulse multiplied by the speed of light, divided by two. In order to detect closer targets one must use a shorter pulse length.

A similar effect imposes a maximum range as well. If the return from the target comes in when the next pulse is being sent out, once again the receiver cannot tell the difference. In order to maximize range, longer times between pulses should be used, referred to as a pulse repetition time (PRT), or its reciprocal, pulse repetition frequency (PRF).

These two effects tend to be at odds with each other, and it is not easy to combine both good short range and good long range in a single radar. This is because the short pulses needed for a good minimum range broadcast have less total energy, making the returns much smaller and the target harder to detect. This could be offset by using more pulses, but this would shorten the maximum range again. So each radar uses a particular type of signal. Long-range radars tend to use long pulses with long delays between them, and short range radars use smaller pulses with less time between them. This pattern of pulses and pauses is known as the pulse repetition frequency (or PRF), and is one of the main ways to characterize a radar. As electronics have improved many radars now can change their PRF thereby changing their range. The newest radars fire 2 pulses during one cell, one for short range 10 km / 6 miles and a separate signal for longer ranges 100 km /60 miles.

The distance resolution and the characteristics of the received signal as compared to noise depends heavily on the shape of the pulse. The pulse is often modulated to achieve better performance using a technique known as pulse compression.

Distance may also be measured as a function of time. The radar mile is the amount of time it takes for a radar pulse to travel one nautical mile, reflect off a target, and return to the radar antenna. Since a nautical mile is defined as exactly 1,852 meters, then dividing this distance by the speed of light (exactly 299,792,458 meters per second), and then multiplying the result by 2 (round trip = twice the distance), yields a result of approximately 12.36 microseconds in duration.

Frequency modulation

Another form of distance measuring radar is based on frequency modulation. Frequency comparison between two signals is considerably more accurate, even with older electronics, than timing the signal. By measuring the frequency of the returned signal and comparing that with the original, the difference can be easily measured.

This technique can be used in continuous wave radar, and is often found in aircraft radar altimeters. In these systems a "carrier" radar signal is frequency modulated in a predictable way, typically varying up and down with a sine wave or sawtooth pattern at audio frequencies. The signal is then sent out from one antenna and received on another, typically located on the bottom of the aircraft, and the signal can be continuously compared using a simple beat frequency modulator that produces an audio frequency tone from the returned signal and a portion of the transmitted signal.

Since the signal frequency is changing, by the time the signal returns to the aircraft the transmit frequency has changed. The amount of frequency shift is used to measure distance.

The modulation index riding on the receive signal is proportional to the time delay between the radar and the reflector. The amount of that frequency shift becomes greater with greater time delay, so greater modulation index riding on the reflection means the reflection is from a greater distance. The measure of the exact amount of frequency shift is directly proportional to the distance traveled. That distance can be displayed on an instrument, and it may also be available via the transponder. This signal processing is similar to that used in speed detecting Doppler radar. Example systems using this approach are AZUSA, MISTRAM, and UDOP.

A further advantage is that the radar can operate effectively at relatively low frequencies, comparable to that used by UHF television. This was important in the early development of this type when high frequency signal generation was difficult or expensive.

Terrestrial radar uses low-power FM signals that cover a larger frequency range. The multiple reflections are analyzed mathematically for pattern changes with multiple passes creating a computerized synthetic image. Doppler effects are used which allows slow moving objects to be detected as well as largely eliminating "noise" from the surfaces of bodies of water. Used primarily for detection of intruders approaching in small boats or intruders crawling on the ground toward an objective.[26]

Speed measurement

Speed is the change in distance to an object with respect to time. Thus the existing system for measuring distance, combined with a memory capacity to see where the target last was, is enough to measure speed. At one time the memory consisted of a user making grease-pencil marks on the radar screen, and then calculating the speed using a slide rule. Modern radar systems perform the equivalent operation faster and more accurately using computers.

However, if the transmitter's output is coherent (phase synchronized), there is another effect that can be used to make almost instant speed measurements (no memory is required), known as the Doppler effect. Most modern radar systems use this principle into doppler radar and pulse-doppler radar systems (weather radar, millitary radar, etc...). The Doppler effect is only able to determine the relative speed of the target along the line of sight from the radar to the target. Any component of target velocity perpendicular to the line of sight cannot be determined by using the Doppler effect alone, but it can be determined by tracking the target's azimuth over time. Additional information of the nature of the Doppler returns may be found in the radar signal characteristics article.

It is possible to make a doppler radar without any pulsing, known as a continuous-wave radar (CW radar), by sending out a very pure signal of a known frequency. CW radar is ideal for determining the radial component of a target's velocity. CW radar is typically used by traffic enforcement to measure vehicle speed quickly and accurately where range is not important.

When using a pulsed radar, the variation between the phase of successive returns gives the distance the target has moved between pulses, and thus its speed. This is a second degree use of the Doppler effect that permit to calculate the position and radial speed of the target at the same time. This can be used in two ways. First, this allows using filters according to an object caracteristic speed, removing unwanted signals: weather and birds for aircraft use, or aircraft for weather use. Second, this allows instantaneous measurement of radial velocity to enhance performance of radar intended to measure weather phenomenon.

Other mathematical developments in radar signal processing include time-frequency analysis (Weyl Heisenberg or wavelet), as well as the chirplet transform which makes use of the fact that radar returns from moving targets typically "chirp" (change their frequency as a function of time, as does the sound of a bird or bat).

Pulse-Doppler signal processing

Pulse-Doppler signal processing. The Range Sample axis represents individual samples taken in between each transmit pulse. The Range Interval axis represents each successive transmit pulse interval during which samples are taken. The Fast Fourier Transform process converts time-domain samples into frequency domain spectra. This is sometimes called the bed of nails.

Pulse-Doppler signal processing includes frequency filtering in the detection process. The space between each transmit pulse is divided into range cells or range gates. Each cell is filtered independently much like the process used by a spectrum analyzer to produce the display showing different frequencies. Each different distance produces a different spectrum. These spectra are used to perform the detection process. This is required to achieve acceptable performance in hostile environments involving weather, terrain, and electronic countermeasures.

Pulse-Doppler signal processing has two purposes.

The primary purpose is to measure both the amplitude and frequency of the aggregate reflected signal from multiple distances. This is used with weather radar to measure radial wind velocity and precipitation rate in each different volume of air. This is linked with computing systems to produce a real-time electronic weather map. Aircraft safety depends upon continuous access to accurate weather radar information that is used to prevent injuries and accidents. Weather radar uses a low PRF. Coherency requirements are not as strict as those for military systems because individual signals ordinarily do not need to be separated. Less sophisticated filtering is required and range ambiguity processing is not normally needed with weather radar in comparison with military radar intended to track air vehicles.

The alternate purpose is look-down/shoot-down capability required to improve military air combat survivability. Pulse-Doppler is also used for ground based surveillance radar required to defend personnel and vehicles.[30][31] Pulse-Doppler signal processing increases the maximum detection distance using less radiation in close proximity to aircraft pilots, shipboard personnel, infantry, and artillery. Reflections from terrain, water, and weather produce signals much larger than aircraft and missiles, which allows fast moving vehicles to hide using nap-of-the-earth flying techniques and stealth technology to avoid detection until an attack vehicle is too close to destroy. Pulse-Doppler signal processing incorporates more sophisticated electronic filtering that safely eliminates this kind of weakness. This requires the use of medium pulse-repetition frequency with phase coherent hardware that has a large dynamic range. Military applications require medium pulse repetition frequency which prevents range from being determined directly, and range ambiguity resolution processing is required to identify the true range of all reflected signals. Radial movement is usually linked with Doppler frequency to produce a lock signal that cannot be produced by radar jamming signals. Pulse-Doppler signal processing also produces audible signals that can be used for threat identification.[30]

Reduction of interference effects

Signal processing is employed in radar systems to reduce the radar interference effects. Signal processing techniques include moving target indication (MTI), Pulse-Doppler signal processing, moving target detection (MTD) processors, correlation with secondary surveillance radar (SSR) targets, space-time adaptive processing (STAP), and track-before-detect (TBD). Constant false alarm rate (CFAR) and digital terrain model (DTM) processing are also used in clutter environments.

Plot and track extraction

Radar video returns on aircraft can be subjected to a plot extraction process whereby spurious and interfering signals are discarded. A sequence of target returns can be monitored through a device known as a plot extractor. The non relevant real time returns can be removed from the displayed information and a single plot displayed. In some radar systems, or alternatively in the command and control system to which the radar is connected, a radar tracker is used to associate the sequence of plots belonging to individual targets and estimate the targets' headings and speeds.

Radar engineering

Radar components

A radar's components are:

  • A transmitter that generates the radio signal with an oscillator such as a klystron or a magnetron and controls its duration by a modulator.
  • A waveguide that links the transmitter and the antenna.
  • A duplexer that serves as a switch between the antenna and the transmitter or the receiver for the signal when the antenna is used in both situations.
  • A receiver. Knowing the shape of the desired received signal (a pulse), an optimal receiver can be designed using a matched filter.
  • An electronic section that controls all those devices and the antenna to perform the radar scan ordered by a software.
  • A link to end users.

The duplexer for CW radar includes a feed-through null.

Antenna design

Radio signals broadcast from a single antenna will spread out in all directions, and likewise a single antenna will receive signals equally from all directions. This leaves the radar with the problem of deciding where the target object is located.

Early systems tended to use omni-directional broadcast antennas, with directional receiver antennas which were pointed in various directions. For instance the first system to be deployed, Chain Home, used two straight antennas at right angles for reception, each on a different display. The maximum return would be detected with an antenna at right angles to the target, and a minimum with the antenna pointed directly at it (end on). The operator could determine the direction to a target by rotating the antenna so one display showed a maximum while the other shows a minimum.

One serious limitation with this type of solution is that the broadcast is sent out in all directions, so the amount of energy in the direction being examined is a small part of that transmitted. To get a reasonable amount of power on the "target", the transmitting aerial should also be directional.

Parabolic reflector

More modern systems use a steerable parabolic "dish" to create a tight broadcast beam, typically using the same dish as the receiver. Such systems often combine two radar frequencies in the same antenna in order to allow automatic steering, or radar lock.

Parabolic reflectors can be either symmetric parabolas or spoiled parabolas:

  • Symmetric parabolic antennas produce a narrow "pencil" beam in both the X and Y dimensions and consequently have a higher gain. The NEXRAD Pulse-Doppler weather radar uses a symmetric antenna to perform detailed volumetric scans of the atmosphere.
Surveillance radar antenna
  • Spoiled parabolic antennas produce a narrow beam in one dimension and a relatively wide beam in the other. This feature is useful if target detection over a wide range of angles is more important than target location in three dimensions. Most 2D surveillance radars use a spoiled parabolic antenna with a narrow azimuthal beamwidth and wide vertical beamwidth. This beam configuration allows the radar operator to detect an aircraft at a specific azimuth but at an indeterminate height. Conversely, so-called "nodder" height finding radars use a dish with a narrow vertical beamwidth and wide azimuthal beamwidth to detect an aircraft at a specific height but with low azimuthal precision.

Types of scan

  • Primary Scan: A scanning technique where the main antenna aerial is moved to produce a scanning beam, examples include circular scan, sector scan etc.
  • Secondary Scan: A scanning technique where the antenna feed is moved to produce a scanning beam, examples include conical scan, unidirectional sector scan, lobe switching etc.
  • Palmer Scan: A scanning technique that produces a scanning beam by moving the main antenna and its feed. A Palmer Scan is a combination of a Primary Scan and a Secondary Scan.

Slotted waveguide

Slotted waveguide antenna

Applied similarly to the parabolic reflector, the slotted waveguide is moved mechanically to scan and is particularly suitable for non-tracking surface scan systems, where the vertical pattern may remain constant. Owing to its lower cost and less wind exposure, shipboard, airport surface, and harbour surveillance radars now use this in preference to the parabolic antenna.

Phased array

Phased array: Not all radar antennas must rotate to scan the sky.

Another method of steering is used in a phased array radar. This uses an array of similar aerials suitably spaced, the phase of the signal to each individual aerial being controlled so that the signal is reinforced in the desired direction and cancels in other directions. If the individual aerials are in one plane and the signal is fed to each aerial in phase with all others then the signal will reinforce in a direction perpendicular to that plane. By altering the relative phase of the signal fed to each aerial the direction of the beam can be moved because the direction of constructive interference will move. Because phased array radars require no physical movement the beam can scan at thousands of degrees per second, fast enough to irradiate and track many individual targets, and still run a wide-ranging search periodically. By simply turning some of the antennas on or off, the beam can be spread for searching, narrowed for tracking, or even split into two or more virtual radars. However, the beam cannot be effectively steered at small angles to the plane of the array, so for full coverage multiple arrays are required, typically disposed on the faces of a triangular pyramid (see picture).

Phased array radars have been in use since the earliest years of radar use in World War II, but limitations of the electronics led to fairly poor accuracy. Phased array radars were originally used for missile defense. They are the heart of the ship-borne Aegis combat system, and the Patriot Missile System, and are increasingly used in other areas because the lack of moving parts makes them more reliable, and sometimes permits a much larger effective antenna, useful in fighter aircraft applications that offer only confined space for mechanical scanning.

As the price of electronics has fallen, phased array radars have become more and more common. Almost all modern military radar systems are based on phased arrays, where the small additional cost is far offset by the improved reliability of a system with no moving parts. Traditional moving-antenna designs are still widely used in roles where cost is a significant factor such as air traffic surveillance, weather radars and similar systems.

Phased array radars are also valued for use in aircraft, since they can track multiple targets. The first aircraft to use a phased array radar was the B-1B Lancer. The first aircraft fighter to use phased array radar was the Mikoyan MiG-31. The MiG-31M's SBI-16 Zaslon phased array radar is considered to be the world's most powerful fighter radar.[32] Phased-array interferometry or, aperture synthesis techniques, using an array of separate dishes that are phased into a single effective aperture, are not typically used for radar applications, although they are widely used in radio astronomy. Because of the Thinned array curse, such arrays of multiple apertures, when used in transmitters, result in narrow beams at the expense of reducing the total power transmitted to the target. In principle, such techniques used could increase the spatial resolution, but the lower power means that this is generally not effective. Aperture synthesis by post-processing of motion data from a single moving source, on the other hand, is widely used in space and airborne radar systems (see Synthetic aperture radar).

Frequency bands

The traditional band names originated as code-names during World War II and are still in military and aviation use throughout the world in the 21st century. They have been adopted in the United States by the IEEE, and internationally by the ITU. Most countries have additional regulations to control which parts of each band are available for civilian or military use.

Other users of the radio spectrum, such as the broadcasting and electronic countermeasures (ECM) industries, have replaced the traditional military designations with their own systems.

Radar frequency bands
Band name Frequency range Wavelength range Notes
HF 3–30 MHz 10–100 m coastal radar systems, over-the-horizon radar (OTH) radars; 'high frequency'
P < 300 MHz 1 m+ 'P' for 'previous', applied retrospectively to early radar systems
VHF 30–300 MHz 1–10 m Very long range, ground penetrating; 'very high frequency'
UHF 300–1000 MHz 0.3–1 m Very long range (e.g. ballistic missile early warning), ground penetrating, foliage penetrating; 'ultra high frequency'
L 1–2 GHz 15–30 cm Long range air traffic control and surveillance; 'L' for 'long'
S 2–4 GHz 7.5–15 cm Moderate range surveillance, Terminal air traffic control, long-range weather, marine radar; 'S' for 'short'
C 4–8 GHz 3.75–7.5 cm Satellite transponders; a compromise (hence 'C') between X and S bands; weather; long range tracking
X 8–12 GHz 2.5–3.75 cm Missile guidance, marine radar, weather, medium-resolution mapping and ground surveillance; in the USA the narrow range 10.525 GHz ±25 MHz is used for airport radar; short range tracking. Named X band because the frequency was a secret during WW2.
Ku 12–18 GHz 1.67–2.5 cm high-resolution
K 18–24 GHz 1.11–1.67 cm from German kurz, meaning 'short'; limited use due to absorption by water vapour, so Ku and Ka were used instead for surveillance. K-band is used for detecting clouds by meteorologists, and by police for detecting speeding motorists. K-band radar guns operate at 24.150 ± 0.100 GHz.
Ka 24–40 GHz 0.75–1.11 cm mapping, short range, airport surveillance; frequency just above K band (hence 'a') Photo radar, used to trigger cameras which take pictures of license plates of cars running red lights, operates at 34.300 ± 0.100 GHz.
mm 40–300 GHz 7.5 mm – 1 mm millimetre band, subdivided as below. The frequency ranges depend on waveguide size. Multiple letters are assigned to these bands by different groups. These are from Baytron, a now defunct company that made test equipment.
V 40–75 GHz 4.0–7.5 mm Very strongly absorbed by atmospheric oxygen, which resonates at 60 GHz.
W 75–110 GHz 2.7–4.0 mm used as a visual sensor for experimental autonomous vehicles, high-resolution meteorological observation, and imaging.
UWB 1.6–10.5 GHz 18.75 cm – 2.8 cm used for through-the-wall radar and imaging systems.

Radar modulators

Modulators act to provide the waveform of the RF-pulse. There are two different radar modulator designs:

  • high voltage switch for non-coherent keyed power-oscillators[33] These modulators consist of a high voltage pulse generator formed from a high voltage supply, a pulse forming network, and a high voltage switch such as a thyratron. They generate short pulses of power to feed the e.g. magnetron, a special type of vacuum tube that converts DC (usually pulsed) into microwaves. This technology is known as Pulsed power. In this way, the transmitted pulse of RF radiation is kept to a defined, and usually, very short duration.
  • hybrid mixers,[34] fed by a waveform generator and an exciter for a complex but coherent waveform. This waveform can be generated by low power/low-voltage input signals. In this case the radar transmitter must be a power-amplifier, e.g. a klystron tube or a solid state transmitter. In this way, the transmitted pulse is intrapulsemodulated and the radar receiver must use pulse compression technique mostly.

Radar coolant

Coolanol and PAO (poly-alpha olefin) are the two main coolants used to cool airborne radar equipment today.[citation needed]

Coolanol (silicate ester) was used in several military radars in the 1970s, for example the AN/APG-63 in the F-15. However, it is hygroscopic, leading to formation of highly flammable alcohol. The loss of a U.S. Navy aircraft in 1978 was attributed to a silicate ester fire.[35] Coolanol is also expensive and toxic. The U.S. Navy has instituted a program named Pollution Prevention (P2) to reduce or eliminate the volume and toxicity of waste, air emissions, and effluent discharges. Because of this Coolanol is used less often today.

PAO is a synthetic lubricant blend of a polyol ester admixed with effective amounts of an antioxidant, yellow metal pacifier and rust inhibitors. The polyol ester blend includes a major proportion of poly (neopentyl polyol) ester blend formed by reacting poly(pentaerythritol) partial esters with at least one C7 to C12 carboxylic acid mixed with an ester formed by reacting a polyol having at least two hydroxyl groups and at least one C8-C10 carboxylic acid. Preferably, the acids are linear and avoid those which can cause odours during use. Effective additives include secondary arylamine antioxidants, triazole derivative yellow metal pacifier and an amino acid derivative and substituted primary and secondary amine and/or diamine rust inhibitor.

A synthetic coolant/lubricant composition, comprising an ester mixture of 50 to 80 weight percent of poly (neopentyl polyol) ester formed by reacting a poly (neopentyl polyol) partial ester and at least one linear monocarboxylic acid having from 6 to 12 carbon atoms, and 20 to 50 weight percent of a polyol ester formed by reacting a polyol having 5 to 8 carbon atoms and at least two hydroxyl groups with at least one linear monocarboxylic acid having from 7 to 12 carbon atoms, the weight percents based on the total weight of the composition.

Radar configurations and types

Radars configurations include Monopulse radar, Bistatic radar, Doppler radar, Continuous-wave radar, etc.. depending on the types of hardware and software used. It is used in aviation (Primary and secondary radar), sea vessels, law enforcement, weather surveillance, ground mapping, geophysical surveys, and biological research.

See also

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  • Acronyms and abbreviations in avionics
Similar detection and ranging methods
Historical radars


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  13. ^ FR 788795  Nouveau système de repérage d'obstacles et ses applications
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  33. ^ Radartutorial
  34. ^ Radartutorial
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Further reading

  • Reg Batt (1991). The radar army: winning the war of the airwaves. ISBN 978-0-7090-4508-3. 
  • E. G. Bowen (1998-01-01). Radar Days. Taylor & Francis. ISBN 978-0-7503-0586-0. 
  • Michael Bragg (2002-05-01). RDF1: The Location of Aircraft by Radio Methods 1935-1945. Twayne Publishers. ISBN 978-0-9531544-0-1. 
  • Louis Brown (1999). A radar history of World War II: technical and military imperatives. Taylor & Francis. ISBN 978-0-7503-0659-1. 
  • Robert Buderi (1996). The invention that changed the world: how a small group of radar pioneers won the Second World War and launched a technological revolution. ISBN 978-0-684-81021-8. 
  • Burch, David F., Radar For Mariners, McGraw Hill, 2005, ISBN 978-0-07-139867-1.
  • Peter S. Hall (1991-03). Radar. Potomac Books Inc. ISBN 978-0-08-037711-7. 
  • Derek Howse; Naval Radar Trust (1993-02). Radar at sea: the royal Navy in World War 2. Naval Institute Press. ISBN 978-1-55750-704-4. 
  • R. V. Jones (1998-08). Most Secret War. Wordsworth Editions Ltd. ISBN 978-1-85326-699-7. 
  • Kaiser, Gerald, Chapter 10 in "A Friendly Guide to Wavelets", Birkhauser, Boston, 1994.
  • Kouemou, Guy (Ed.): Radar Technology. InTech, 2010, ISBN 978-953-307-029-2, (Radar Technology - Free Open Access Book | InTechOpen).
  • Colin Latham; Anne Stobbs (1997-01). Radar: A Wartime Miracle. Sutton Pub Ltd. ISBN 978-0-7509-1643-1. 
  • François Le Chevalier (2002). Principles of radar and sonar signal processing. Artech House Publishers. ISBN 978-1-58053-338-6. 
  • David Pritchard (1989-08). The radar war: Germany's pioneering achievement 1904-45. Harpercollins. ISBN 978-1-85260-246-8. 
  • Merrill Ivan Skolnik (1980-12-01). Introduction to radar systems. ISBN 978-0-07-066572-9. 
  • Merrill Ivan Skolnik (1990). Radar handbook. McGraw-Hill Professional. ISBN 978-0-07-057913-2. 
  • George W. Stimson (1998). Introduction to airborne radar. SciTech Publishing. ISBN 978-1-891121-01-2. 
  • Younghusband, Eileen., Not an Ordinary Life. How Changing Times Brought Historical Events into my Life, Cardiff Centre for Lifelong Learning, Cardiff, 2009., ISBN 987-0-9561156-9-0 (Pages 36–67 contain the experiences of a WAAF radar plotter in WWII.)
  • Younghusband, Eileen., One Woman's War. Cardiff. Candy Jar Books. 2011. ISBN 978-0-9566826-2-8
  • David Zimmerman (2001-02). Britain's shield: radar and the defeat of the Luftwaffe. Sutton Pub Ltd. ISBN 978-0-7509-1799-5. 

External links

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