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Radar was once synonymous with the battlefield. And indeed, it still is an invaluable high-frequency technology for detection and warning of targets, whether installed on board ships, on aircraft, or in land-based systems. But RF/microwave radar technology is increasingly being applied in other markets, among them automotive, commercial, industrial, and even medical applications. Suppliers of key components, such as radar sensors, thus face the growing challenge of providing advanced technology devices at reduced costs to help spread radar technology to a greater number of market areas.

As military spending and strategies change with time, there is a greater tendency to rely on Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) systems onboard unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or on satellites or ground-based systems. The large system suppliers—including Raytheon Co., Lockheed Martin, and Northrop Grumman—are still the leaders in military radar technology, and are constantly reviewing their capabilities in search of advances.

For example, the compact Raytheon Advanced Combat Radar (RACR) system (Fig. 1) is lightweight and scalable for use on a number of different aircraft, including on F-16 and F/A-18 fighter jets. It is based on the firm’s active electronically scanned array (AESA) technology and can be tailored to any aircraft’s size and weight, both for air-to-air and air-to-surface use. These electronically scanned radar systems allow pilots to acquire targets over greater distances and to track more targets simultaneously than radars with mechanically scanned antennas. In fact, the RACR with its AESA technology can conduct simultaneous air-to-air and air-to-ground missiles because of its advanced processing power.

1. The Raytheon Advanced Combat Radar (RACR) system employs AESA technology and a modular configuration to match with different-sized aircraft. (Photo courtesy of Raytheon Co.)

This trend toward smaller and lighter radar and surveillance systems is taken to new extremes by SpotterRF and its lines of man-portable radar systems. As detailed in the July 2012 issue of our Defense Electronics supplement, the company has assembled a portable Radar Backpack Kit (RBK) based on a pair of its M600C radar systems. These units, which are licensed by the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for use at X-band frequencies, boast a 3-minute setup time and a surveillance area as wide as 1000 x 800 m. Each radar module weighs about 4 lbs. and measures just 10.125 x 8.75 x 2.25 in.

The portable radar units draw only 10 W power from a voltage supply at +12 to +30 VDC. They are designed to be accurate at operating temperatures from -30 to +65°C and include an Ethernet interface for connection to a portable computer. The total weight of the RBK is less than 20 lbs. with two of the company’s M600C radars, a network hub tablet, a model 2590 battery, a tripod, and the cables needed for operation. Regardless of visibility or weather, the system can provide full 360-deg. coverage of an area greater than 150 acres.

For their part in promoting radar technology, several years ago MACOM Technology Solutions developed its Multifunction Phased Array Radar (MPAR) panel with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for next-generation air-traffic-control (ATC) and weather surveillance applications. The MPAR system consolidates eight separate radar systems that are used for four functions: Terminal Air Surveillance, En-Route Air Surveillance, Weather Radar, and Terminal Doppler Radar. The MPAR system, which consists of multiple MPAR panels functioning coherently to transmit and receive radar pulses to detect, locate, and track both aircraft and weather, provides improved weather forecasting and reliable ATC capability.

Earlier this year, the firm also contributed to a major advance in solid-state power for radar applications by introducing a line of gallium nitride (GaN) in plastic packaged power transistors, featuring peak power levels to 100 W in plastic packages at microwave frequencies. Suitable for a new generation of commercial and military radar systems, these plastic-packaged transistors are supplied in miniature 3 x 6 mm dual-flat no leads (DFN) and standard small outline transistor (SOT-89) packages. They approach output levels of 100 W when operating at 10% duty cycle with a 1-ms pulse width and +50 VDC drain bias. The transistors are available for use from DC to 3.5 GHz and DC to 4.0 GHz.

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