Enhancing Layered Threat Detection Solutions for Defense Applications with Radar
The United States Depart of Defense (DoD) has a mission to provide military forces with the equipment needed to deter war and ensure our nation’s security. Achieving this mission has become progressively more complex as adversaries increasingly use non-conventional tools, like drones. Continuous innovations in robotics and autonomous technology constantly raise threat levels, extending the threat perimeter from surface to sky, while also reducing the costs of deploying destructive and life-threatening missions. Yet, the large, fixed radar systems most defense organizations are invested in were developed for tracking traditional large, high-energy-producing targets such as airplanes, missiles, and large vehicles, not newer adversaries such as fast, low-flying drones.
As the threat landscape our nation faces evolves, defense agencies are identifying drones as a serious risk to forces and the homeland. Since traditional multi-million-dollar electronically scanned arrays (ESAs) are not designed for tracking these new low-level fast-moving adversaries, the DoD now needs a variety of tools to provide comprehensive threat detection and situational awareness.
Even if ESA radars were suited for drone detection, these expensive systems would not be a practical option for tracking these low-cost threats. In addition to the expense of acquiring ESA radar, ESAs are also costly to maintain and often require downtime for maintenance. While this downtime may be acceptable when monitoring for sporadic threats such as large aircrafts or missiles, given the large number of drones operating today, downtime like this may put warfighters at risk, which is not acceptable.
To establish better financial symmetry between threat and detection and aim for uninterrupted coverage, defense organizations initially looked to incorporate RF sensors into their solutions. While these technologies could track some of these newer threats, these solutions had large gaps in coverage and performance, such as the inability of RF sensors to track dark drones, or drones that do not emit RF signals. It was not until recently that a true breakthrough in radar technology that could meet the needs of defense organizations occurred with the development of a low-cost commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) product with ESA performance – metamaterials electronically scanned array (MESA®) radar.