Evolving Radar to Support Additional Applications that Require Situational Awareness
Historically, high-performance radar was used solely for object detection for military and national security applications. Because national security threats have conventionally focused on high-flying missiles, bombers, and fighter jets with relatively straight trajectories or on force protection systems, such as active protection systems, these conventional radar systems have been a great fit. High-performance radar systems are rarely used for applications beyond national security though because these systems have:
- High size, weight, and power (SWaP)
- High acquisition costs
- High operational/lifecycle costs
Phased arrays commonly used in military and national security applications for example are generally large and the phase shifters are mechanical parts that generate heat, increasing operational costs as these systems need to be cooled. These components also require maintenance, including significant tuning and calibration, further driving up lifecycle costs.
To provide a radar-like solution at the opposite end of the spectrum cost-wise, angle-of-arrival (AoA) radars emerged. This relatively small and inexpensive radar technology does not use beamforming, making these systems very inefficient. While AoA radars can generally provide sufficient situational awareness when it comes to knowing if an object such as a small plane is in the area, these radars usually cannot offer details on exactly where an object is located, making them insufficient to use for security purposes. Additionally, most AoA radars provide two-dimensional coverage so these systems can only see the ground, typically at <500m. While some AoA radars can provide three-dimensional surveillance of air and ground space, the coverage is typically insufficient and these devices cannot detect small threats such as drones.
With rapid growth in drone usage, demand for a radar solution for comprehensive object detection in new safety applications is emerging. Until recently, the SWaP-C of ESA radar systems and performance limitations of AoA radars were big barriers to entry for applications that require drone detection – radar was either too big and expensive or too small and ineffective. After many years of research and significant innovation, a breakthrough low SWaP-C radar system employing a novel antenna architecture, metamaterials electronically scanned array (MESA®), is finally removing these barriers. MESA radars are more appropriately tailored for this new threat (drones) and create symmetry in technology and cost between the threat and the threat detection system.