Mercury Systems Debuts Synthetic Aperture Radar Test Bed

By Stew Magnuson

Mercury Systems Inc. image

NATIONAL HARBOR, Maryland — The rapid growth of synthetic aperture radar to conduct military surveillance over the past decade has prompted one contractor to develop a test platform designed to save funding.

Mercury Systems Inc. at the recent Association of Old Crows annual conference debuted its flight testing simulator for air-to-ground synthetic aperture radar systems ARES-SAR, which can replace expensive, real-world testing, Joe Styzens, Mercury’s director of test and training product management, said on the sidelines of the show.

It took the Andover, Massachusetts-based company about a decade to develop the system, he said.

During that time, the military’s use of synthetic aperture radar, or SAR, has seen rapid growth.

The radar is generally pointed downward from aircraft or satellites and can track moving targets in real time, while having the ability to cut through cloud cover.

Traditional air-to-air radars return data as points, and simulators testing the systems do the same, Styzens said.

“When you’re testing a radar for vulnerabilities, you need to be exercising all the different modes. And so, we’re allowing them to test in the chamber what they’ve never been able to do,” he said.

Operators monitoring SAR sensors don’t see points on a screen along with some data, but rather imagery of targets and their environs.

“Now the radar in the [test] chamber looks at the screen angle, and it says, ‘There’s a tank. That’s a threat,’” he said.

Key to SAR’s rapid growth over the past decade has been increased onboard computing power — either in fourth- or fifth-generation fighter jets or on satellites, he noted.

“The reason we’ve never been able to do it in the past was processing limitations. So as processing has gotten faster and faster, we’ve moved from having to do pre-scripted events to being able to do it real time,” he noted.

Carrying out vulnerability tests on SAR systems aboard a flying aircraft is expensive. Styzens said about 80 percent of the necessary tests can be done in the ARES-SAR indoor chamber, which would save a SAR development program about $3 million. ND

Topics: Emerging Technologies

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