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RADAR Accuracy

Radar accuracy is a measure of the ability of a radar system to determine the correct range, bearing, and, in some cases, height of an object. The degree of accuracy is primarily determined by the resolution of the radar system. Some additional factors affecting radar accuracy are pulse shape and atmospheric conditions.

Pulse Shape

When considering accuracy of a pulse radar, the shape and width of the rf pulse influences minimum range, range accuracy, and maximum range. The ideal pulse shape is a square wave having vertical leading and trailing edges. However, equipments do not usually produce the ideal waveforms.

The factors influencing minimum range for radar accuracy are discussed first. Since the receiver cannot receive target reflections while the transmitter is operating, you should be able to see that a narrow pulse is necessary for short ranges.

A sloping trailing edge extends the width of the transmitter pulse, although it may add very little to the total power generated. Therefore, along with a narrow pulse, the trailing edge should be as near vertical as possible to improve radar accuracy.

A sloping leading edge also affects minimum range as well as range accuracy since it provides no definite point from which to measure elapsed time on the indicator time base. Using a starting point at the lower edge of the pulse’s leading edge would increase minimum range. Using a starting point high up on the slope would reduce the radar accuracy of range measurements at short ranges which are so vital for accurate solution of the fire-control problem.

The radar accuracy attained in maximum range is influenced by pulse width and pulse repetition frequency (prf). Since a target can reflect only a very small part of the transmitted power, the greater the transmitted power, the greater the strength of the echo that could be received. Thus, a transmitted pulse should quickly rise to its maximum amplitude, remain at this amplitude for the duration of the desired pulse width, and decay instantaneously to zero. The figure below illustrates the effects of pulse shapes.

Pulse shapes and effects

Pulse shapes and effects.

Atmospheric Conditions

Electromagnetic wavefronts travel through empty space in straight lines at the speed of light, but the REFRACTIVE INDEX of the atmosphere affects both the travel path and the speed of the electromagnetic wavefront. The path followed by electromagnetic energy in the atmosphere, whether direct or reflected, usually is slightly curved; and the speed is affected by temperature, atmospheric pressure, and the amount of water vapor present in the atmosphere, which all affect the refractive index.

As altitude increases, the combined effects of these influences, under normal atmospheric conditions, cause a small, uniform increase in signal speed. This increase in speed causes the travel path to curve slightly downward, as shown in figure (A). The downward curve extends the radar horizon beyond a line tangent to the earth, as illustrated in figure (B).


Figure (A): Wavefront-path.


Figure (B): Extension of the radar horizon.

The reason for the downward curve can be illustrated using line AB in figure (A). Line AB represents the surface of a wavefront with point A higher in altitude than point B. As wavefront AB moves to the point represented by A’B’, the speed at A and A’ is faster than the speed at B and B’ since A and A’ are at a greater altitude.

Therefore, in a given time, the upper part of the wavefront moves farther than the lower part. The wavefront leans slightly forward as it moves. Since the direction of energy propagation is always perpendicular to the surface of a wavefront, the tilted wavefront causes the energy path to curve downward.

REFRACTION is the bending of electromagnetic waves caused by a change in the density of the medium through which the waves are passing. A visible example of electromagnetic refraction is the apparent displacement of underwater objects caused by the bending of light as it passes from the atmosphere into the water. An INDEX OF REFRACTION has been established which indicates the degree of refraction, or bending, caused by different substances. Because the density of the atmosphere changes with altitude, the index of refraction changes gradually with height.

The temperature and moisture content of the atmosphere normally decrease uniformly with an increase in altitude. However, under certain conditions the temperature may first increase with height and then begin to decrease. Such a situation is called a temperature inversion. An even more important deviation from normal may exist over the ocean. Since the atmosphere close to the surface over large bodies of water may contain more than a normal amount of moisture, the moisture content may decrease more rapidly at heights just above the sea. This effect is referred to as MOISTURE LAPSE.

Either temperature inversion or moisture lapse, alone or in combination, can cause a large change in the refraction index of the lowest few-hundred feet of the atmosphere. The result is a greater bending of the radar waves passing through the abnormal condition. The increased bending in such a situation is referred to as DUCTING and may greatly affect radar performance. The radar horizon may be extended or reduced, depending on the direction the radar waves are bent. The effect of ducting on radar waves is illustrated in the last figure below.


Ducting effect on the radar wave.

Another effect of the atmosphere on radar accuracy performance is caused by particles suspended in the air. Water droplets and dust particles diffuse radar energy through absorption, reflection, and scattering so less energy strikes the target. Consequently, the return echo is smaller. The overall effect is a reduction in usable range that varies widely with weather conditions. The higher the frequency of a radar system, the more it is affected by weather conditions such as rain or clouds. In some parts of the world, dust suspended in the air can greatly decrease the normal range of high-frequency radar.

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