Radar systems have long aided meteorologists in forecasting weather patterns about to strike. By upgrading those systems to the use of military-grade active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar technology, it is possible to predict severe and potentially dangerous weather events, such as tornadoes and thunderstorms, much more quickly than with conventional weather radar systems. A radar system used for weather forecasting transmits radio waves that reflect off precipitation in the atmosphere, such as raindrops or snow. By measuring the strength of the waves that return to the radar and how long the round-trip takes, it is possible to determine the amount of precipitation with a fairly accurate idea of its geographic location.
About one-third of the more than 600 ground-based radar systems in the U.S. belong to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), some of which rely on older detection methods, such as Doppler radar systems. The use of more accurate AESA radar systems (see figure) would dramatically improve the speed and detection accuracy of NOAA’s weather-prediction efforts. “Adding AESA radar, we could go from ‘warn on’ detection to ‘warn on’ forecasting,” explained Charlie French, a weather programs senior manager at Raytheon Co., the supplier of the AESA radar systems. “Instead of saying, ‘Take cover immediately, there’s a tornado here,’ we’d be able to say ‘Find a shelter. There’s a tornado that will be heading in our direction.’”
In order to decrease the number and types of radar systems across the U.S. and replace them with higher-performance, multiple-purpose radar systems for air traffic control (ATC), air defense, air surveillance, border protection, infrastructure protection, and weather forecasting, various federal agencies have formed the Spectrum Efficient National Surveillance Radar (SENSR) team. These include the NOAA, DHS, FAA, and DoD.
“AESA radar is more effective, more efficient, and degrades gracefully versus simply shutting down,” said Mark Thompson, Raytheon SENSR capture executive. “By the way, having four agencies share radars will result in a significant reduction in operations and sustainment through efficiency. It won’t be a burden on any one single agency’s operations and maintenance budget.”