Multi-function phased array radar for U.S. civil-sector surveillance needs
October 24, 2005
This paper is a concept study for possible future utilization of active electronically scanned radars to provide weather and aircraft surveillance functions in U.S. airspace. If critical technology costs decrease sufficiently, multi-function phased array radars might prove to be a cost effective alternative to current surveillance radars, since the number of required radars would be reduced, and maintenance and logistics infrastructure would be consolidated. A radar configuration that provides terminal-area and long-range aircraft surveillance and weather measurement capability is described and a radar network design that replicates or exceeds current airspace coverage is presented. Key technology issues are examined, including transmit-receive elements, overlapped sub-arrays, the digital beamformer, and weather and aircraft post-processing algorithms. We conclude by discussing implications relative to future national weather and non-cooperative aircraft target surveillance needs. The U.S. Government currently operates four separate ground based surveillance radar networks supporting public and aviation-specific weather warnings and advisories, and primary or "skin paint" aircraft surveillance. The separate networks are: (i) The 10-cm wavelength NEXRAD or WSR88-D (Serafin and Wilson, 2000) national-scale weather radar network. This is managed jointly by the National Weather Service (NWS), the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), and the Department of Defense (DoD). (ii) The 5-cm wavelength Terminal Doppler Weather Radars (TDWR) (Evans and Turnbull, 1989) deployed at large airports to detect low-altitude wind-shear phenomena. (iii) The 10-cm wavelength Airport Surveillance Radars (ASR-9 and ASR-11) (Taylor and Brunins, 1985) providing terminal area primary aircraft surveillance and vertically averaged precipitation reflectivity measurements. (iv) The 30-cm wavelength Air Route Surveillance Radars (ARSR-1, 2, 3 and 4) (Weber, 2005) that provide national-scale primary aircraft surveillance. The latter three networks are managed primarily by the FAA, although the DoD operates a limited number of ASRs and has partial responsibility for maintenance of the ARSR network. In total there are 513 of these radars in the contiguous United States (CONUS), Alaska, and Hawaii. The agencies that maintain these radars conduct various "life extension" activities that are projected to extend their operational life to approximately 2020. At this time, there are no defined programs to acquire replacement radars. The NWS and FAA have recently begun exploratory research on the capabilities and technology issues related to the use of multi-function phased array radar (MPAR) as a possible replacement approach. A key concept is that the MPAR network could provide both weather and primary aircraft surveillance, thereby reducing the total number of ground-based radars. In addition, MPAR surveillance capabilities would likely exceed those of current operational radars, for example, by providing more frequent weather volume scans and by providing vertical resolution and height estimates for primary aircraft targets. Table 1 summarizes the capabilities of current U.S. surveillance radars. These are approximations and do not fully capture variations in capability as a function, for example, of range or operating mode. A key observation is that significant variation in update rates between the aircraft and weather surveillance functions are currently achieved by using fundamentally different antenna patterns--low-gain vertical "fan beams" for aircraft surveillance that are scanned in azimuth only, versus high-gain weather radar "pencil beams" that are scanned volumetrically at much lower update rates. Note also that, if expressed in consistent units, the power-aperture products of the weather radars significantly exceed those of the ASRs and ARSRs. In the next section, we present a concept design for MPAR and demonstrate that it can simultaneously provide the measurement capabilities summarized in Table 1. In Section 3 we present an MPAR network concept that duplicates the airspace coverage provided by the current multiple radar networks. Section 4 discusses technology issues and associated cost considerations. We conclude in Section 5 by discussing implications relative to future national weather and non-cooperative aircraft target surveillance needs.