Over-the-Horizon Radar: A Better Way to Watch the Skies

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In a place called Moscow in the early 1990s, in the last days of the Cold War, there was a facility built to detect enemy planes. This Over-the-Horizon Backscatter radar system (OTH-B) was a sophisticated system that bounced signals off of the ionosphere, a layer of Earth’s atmosphere ionized by solar winds. Moscow’s OTH-B transmitter was so subtle and refined it could even pick up changes in ocean currents, but it was never used for its intended purpose: to be on the lookout for Soviet bombers.

Why would radar systems in Moscow be looking for Soviet bombers? Simple: this little town was Moscow, Maine, near the East Coast of the United States.

Developed by GE Aerospace, later part of Martin Marietta, the Moscow OTH-B facility, and a West Coast facility in Oregon, was managed by the U.S. Air Force. But with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the subsequent end of the Cold War, the OTH-B facilities on the coasts did not get the chance to operate for very long.

On the other side of the world, however, OTH continued to scan the skies.

The Jindalee Operational Radar Network
Since World War II, Australia knew there was a need for advance warning of possible attacks from beyond the horizon. A prototype of what would become the Jindalee Operational Radar Network (JORN) was built in the 1970s, but the program was not given the official go-ahead until the early 1990s, with construction scheduled to be complete by 1997.

But when 1997 came and went, JORN was still working through technical challenges. The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) needed a new partner experienced in working with governmental agencies on complicated technologies. Lockheed Martin teamed with Australian defense contractor Tenix to form RLM Systems, a joint-venture that would complete the project and deliver it to the RAAF by 2003. Since JORN’s construction was still based on the old designs and specifications, RLM was immediately tasked with upgrading JORN for a new century.

Trusted Partners Who Look to the Future
JORN’s ability to see beyond the horizon with a range that dwarfed conventional radar made it an invaluable tool to Australia and her allies. When RLM a Lockheed joint venture with Tennix Australia became Lockheed Martin Australia Electronic Systems in 2008, it continued to support the program that could now provide coverage of Australia’s Northern approaches that can detect air targets equivalent in size to a BAE Hawk 100 or larger, and objects on the ocean surface equivalent to an Armidale Class Patrol boat, at a range of 1,000 to 3,000 km. As the United States plans to expand its defense systems in the Pacific, JORN could play a crucial role in early detection of aircraft and ship movements.

From World War II through the Cold War and into the present day, from an American town called Moscow to the Australian coast, Over-the-Horizon Radar has proven to be an innovative technology on all four corners of the globe.


Sources and Further Reading

 

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Seen here at sunset, JORN is a wide-area surveillance over-the-horizon radar network which provides the means to detect ships and aircraft off the Australian coast.

highlights
  • JORN’s ability to see beyond the horizon with a range that dwarfed conventional radar made it an invaluable tool to Australia and her allies.

JORN is a wide-area surveillance over-the-horizon radar network which provides the means to detect ships and aircraft off the Australian coast.

JORN is a wide-area surveillance over-the-horizon radar network which provides the means to detect ships and aircraft off the Australian coast.

JORN is a wide-area surveillance over-the-horizon radar network which provides the means to detect ships and aircraft off the Australian coast.