Military radar is having to operate within increasingly complex environments. The world is becoming ever more digitalised, creating a more cluttered and expansive electromagnetic spectrum. To make sense of this ‘noise’, modern radar systems combine advanced materials, digital signal processors, and solid-state modules, to give the RAF accurate surveillance pictures and information.
The military has a long and proud relationship with radar. The technology was first deployed during WW2 to give the RAF advanced warning of enemy bombers crossing the English Channel. In this form, radar offered the operator limited information on a contact’s speed and direction, with no detail on contact size or type.
Modern radar, however, has taken huge steps forward in relation to functionality, detail, and sophistication. Contemporary systems usually possess imaging capabilities, allowing users to increase the detail and scope of their surveillance. These systems can also easily and quickly manage digitalized signals for graphical overlay, increasing information availability and detail. A final key characteristic is that modern radar can be networked, enabling multiple systems to communicate and relay information between themselves. This integration allows the user to access wide search areas in high detail.
For many commentators, the key benefit afforded by modern radar is the ability of the system to convert analog radar signals into digital information. This enables contemporary radar information to be made available in real time.
The Sentinel R1 is an airborne ground and battlefield surveillance aircraft. Using the aircraft’s powerful radar, the flight crew can identify and track multiple targets over large distances. By operating at high altitude, and at considerable long-range distances, the radar platform is able to remain over safe territory whilst providing an excellent “look-down” angle of the target area. The detail of this viewpoint is heightened by the system’s utilisation of market leading ground moving target indicator and synthetic aperture radar imagery.
The radar system is also capable of relaying this information in near real-time back to friendly forces and command points. From this, on-board and ground analysts can examine the information in further detail, providing key decision makers with real-time and precise information, as a mission develops.
At the time of its entry into the force, the Sentinel R1 was the most advanced long-range, airborne-surveillance system in the world. Initially utilised for conventional war operations, the aircraft’s radar system is now used for more varied roles within the Service and beyond.
An example of this was seen with the 2014 UK floods. The powerful processing abilities of the Sentinel’s radar system were used to produce photo-like imagery of the ground from radar returns. These images were then converted into large-scale maps to assist with the development of operational strategies against future flooding scenarios.
The Air Force needs faster and more accurate signal processing routines in the detection, localization, imaging, and classification of radar targets. As UAVs and other hostile technologies have become assets that nearly every national possesses, radar systems need to be able to relay a broader range of information, over increasingly large distances, in near real-time. Current systems need to be developed and modernised to ensure they can process the large amounts of raw data that today’s radar captures. As the Service keeps broadening its operational zones, these issues will be exacerbated, highlighting the limitations and constraints of the Force’s current systems.
The RAF are therefore increasingly investing more knowledge and resources into the pursuit of innovative radar technologies and their applications. Systems that can cover great distances, in exceptionally high detail are of great value to the RAF moving forwards. To stay at the forefront of global radar technologies, the RAF is focusing on companies who are pushing forward development within the sector.
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