How Do Radars Work?

How Do Radars Work?
October 13, 2021
Let’s get down to basics. Today we are going to explain quite simply, how radars work. 

What Does a Radar do?

First, let’s start with what a radar does. Radars transmit and receive high-frequency radio waves to detect and track things that you may not be able to see with a naked eye. Further, the data collected via the radars helps operators made informed decisions about “what’s next.” In national defense, radars are imperative to the security of armed forces and civilians because they provide early warning against adversarial threats, such as ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, unmanned air vehicles and aircraft, to name a few. 

Step 1: Transmit

Radars send out narrow beams of electromagnetic radio waves in short or long pulses via a transmitter.
Sentinel A4

Step 2: Reflect

Those waves can be intercepted and reflected by objects – perhaps a metal object, like an aluminum-skinned plane or missile, or a fluid object such as precipitation. The reflection of the waves helps radar operators determine many features of that object – distance, direction, speed, shape, range, etc.

For example, Lockheed Martin’s TPY-4 uses a rotating Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) with Gallium Nitride (GaN) transmitter technology to run multiple missions simultaneously, while operating in contested electromagnetic environments, and detect and track with greater efficiency and reliability. 


Step 3: Receive

The receiver accepts the returned energy of the radio waves and measures the time elapsed since the transmission. The distance, or range, of that object is calculated by measuring the total time the radar signal takes to make the trip to the target and back. By measuring the location of a target over time, the target’s recent track can be determined; and once established, the future path can be predicted.

Step 4: Detect, Classify, & Act

All this digital data is then processed in real time to determine the range and trajectory of detected objects, as well as their threat level. Are we simply tracking a bird? Or is it a unmanned aerial vehicle, a cruise missile or a fighter jet? Is it friendly or is it hostile?

All this information allows the operator to act accordingly.

The brand new Sentinel A4 air and missile defense radar will provide improved capability in contested environments against cruise missiles, unmanned aerial systems, rotary wing and fixed wing aircraft, and rocket, artillery, and mortar threats. The Sentinel A4 includes enhanced surveillance, detection, and classification capabilities to protect U.S. Army maneuver formations. This level of technology is a game changer for our troops, allowing soldiers to operate in a more secure warfighting environment, improving capabilities against multiple evolving threats. 

Importance of Radars Today

The threats to military and civilian assets are accelerating in volume, diversity, and ferocity every day. In this frenetic environment, the U.S. military and its allies need radar systems that can protect various mission types and adapt to an ever-changing landscape.

With broad and deep experience developing and delivering ground-based, naval and aerial radar solutions to our customers, our high-performing, high-reliability, radar systems specialize in counter target acquisition, early warning, situational awareness, and integrated air and missile defense.

Lockheed Martin radars are designed with the highest degree of commonality and fully integrated systems. They can operate in all environments, are available in highly mobile configurations, and are deployed worldwide. It’s why Lockheed Martin radars are the choice of more than 45 nations on six continents.