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.

Driving a Layered Threat Detection Solution with New MESA Radar Technology

For comprehensive coverage and optimal situational awareness, a layered system consisting of multiple sensors with MESA radar as the baseline is the best approach for a variety of defense applications. Let’s look at how this type of system is optimized to track and mitigate some of the newest threats the defense industry is facing.


Group 3 and larger drones represent increased lethality with enhanced electronic warfare and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities. With speeds approaching 150 mph and hundreds of miles of range, relatively inexpensive drones as loitering munitions represent a significant threat to force protection and battlespace dominance. When it comes to mitigating these threats, protecting the warfighter is the overall goal. Therefore, military personnel need technology for counter-uncrewed aircraft system (C-UAS) detection that will allow for the highest level of protection.

MESA radar is the only system capable of tracking the low, fast, and irregular flight patterns these threats take, including dark drones that do not emit RF signals. Additionally, since Echodyne MESA radar solutions operate in the Ku band and include micro-Doppler, these systems can provide comprehensive coverage of micro-movements that systems without micro-Doppler and those that operate in the S band cannot. This includes detecting small (Group 1 or Group 2) hovering drones and performing prop detection, which is the detection of the tiny sound waves small drone propellers create in the air.

Base and Force Protection

Resilient base security in permanent or temporary locations is essential for achieving mission objectives and providing force protection. Multi-mission radars that detect and track all movement on the ground and in the air across a large field of view are essential components for developing a 3D perimeter surveillance architecture. Forces are not always located at a base though, making it necessary to have a small, light-weight radar solution to protect forces when they are outside the base.

Portability is needed for those in the tactical field to achieve situational awareness to the best of their ability. Applications of this that can be done using MESA radar include the following: 

  • Counter Rocket Artillery and Mortar (CRAM) – Radar is placed on moving vehicles to detect where a rocket or artillery round originated from to let forces know if something else is coming and if they need to move or brace for impact.
  • Active Protection Systems (APS) – Radar is mounted on a vehicle and has sense-and-detect capability as well as soft kill and hard kill effectors to mitigate threats.

Portable ISR

Group 1 or 2 drones can be an enormous threat when it comes to collecting intelligence or watching the enemy to create a mitigation plan or battle strategy. High-performance radar that is also easily portable is a critical asset in tracking these threats so that forces can develop an effective mitigation strategy.

Using High-Fidelity Radar Data to Trigger Calculated Threat Responses

Data fidelity makes all the difference to mission success. In the field, there is no time for data to be recompiled or examined by experts. More accurate data rapidly ingested creates better systems and safer outcomes. One key to ensuring data accuracy is using software-defined filters to ensure acquired data is accurate enough to be immediately actionable. The data must be as clear as if a user had their own eyes on the target so they can make rapid data-driven decisions in as close to real-time as possible.

For example, with highly accurate data, layered systems can queue and slew to threats based on the radar data and classification of the detected target. The data must also continue to accurately feed to the system so the radar can remain queued to the target to create a more visible and accurate mitigation response. This may include a kinetic response, which requires the utmost information accuracy to properly target the threat, or a non-kinetic response, which may include jamming a drone, taking over a drone, or capturing a drone.

The Advantages of Making Radar Accessible to All Military Members for the Long Term

Legacy radar systems require users to undergo extensive training for effective operation. MESA radar technology is much simpler and more user friendly, making it much easier for more people to be fully capable of using these systems. MESA radar technology can quickly empower the warfighter to be an expert in ground to air reconnaissance, surveillance, and air domain awareness. Plus, Echodyne’s software-defined MESA radar can very quickly integrate with all government-provided command and control (C2) systems, reducing the time it takes for a MESA radar to be fully functional and providing data within an organization’s already established system.

Not only is usability simplified with MESA radar, the size, weight, and power (SWaP) of the radar versus an ESA radar is significantly decreased, opening the possibilities for using radar in many applications and areas where it could not be used before. Since MESA radars are a low-cost COTS product, these systems are attritable. This means redundancy can inexpensively be added to systems in the field. If a panel is destroyed or broken, maintenance can replace the panel and still have the system running, unlike an ESA where the entire system needs to be taken down for a repair, causing a gap in protection. 

Finally, since Echodyne’s MESA radar technology operates in the Ku band, there are less latency issues than radars operating in the overcrowded S band, resulting in faster and more accurate data. By planning ahead and designing radar operations in the Ku band, these systems are inherently prepared for long-term operability.

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In part 6, we will continue exploring specific applications that radar is well suited for by examining how radar can improve situational awareness for a variety of government applications such as border security, public safety, and asset protection.

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