RADAR Principles

RADAR Principles of Operation

Radar systems, like other complex electronics systems, are composed of several major subsystems and many individual circuits. This section will introduce you to the major subsystems common to most radar sets. A brief functional description of subsystem principles of operation will be provided.

A much more detailed explanation of radar principles and their subsystems will be given in following tutorials. Since most radar systems in use today are some variation of the pulse radar system, the units discussed in this section will be those used in pulse radar. All other types of radar use some variation of these units, and these variations will be explained as necessary.


Pulse radar systems can be functionally divided into the six essential components shown in the figure below. These components are briefly described in the following paragraphs and will be explained in detail after that:


Functional block diagram of a basic radar system.

SYNCHRONIZER (also referred to as the TIMER or KEYER) supplies the synchronizing signals that time the transmitted pulses, the indicator, and other associated circuits.

The TRANSMITTER generates electromagnetic energy in the form of short, powerful pulses.

The DUPLEXER allows the same antenna to be used for transmitting and receiving.

The ANTENNA SYSTEM routes the electromagnetic energy from the transmitter, radiates it in a highly directional beam, receives any returning echoes, and routes those echoes to the receiver.

The RECEIVER amplifies the weak, electromagnetic pulses returned from the reflecting object and reproduces them as video pulses that are sent to the indicator.

The INDICATOR produces a visual indication of the echo pulses in a manner that, at a minimum, furnishes range and bearing information.

While the physical configurations of radar systems differ, any radar system can be represented by the functional block diagram in the figure above. An actual radar set may have several of these functional components within one physical unit, or a single one of these functions may require several physical units. However, the functional block diagram of the basic radar principles may be used to analyze the operation of almost any radar set.

In the following paragraphs, a brief description of the operation of each of the major components is given.

Synchronizer (Timer)

The purpose of the synchronizer is to ensure that all circuits connected with the radar system operate in a definite timed relationship. It also times the interval between transmitted pulses to ensure that the interval is of the proper length. Timing pulses are used to ensure synchronous circuit operation and are related to the prf.

The prf can be set by any stable oscillator, such as a sine-wave oscillator, multivibrator, or a blocking oscillator. That output is then applied to pulse-shaping circuits to produce timing pulses. Associated components can be timed by the output of the synchronizer or by a timing signal from the transmitter as it is turned on.


The transmitter generates powerful pulses of electromagnetic energy at precise intervals. The required power is obtained by using a high-power microwave oscillator, such as a magnetron, or a microwave amplifier, such as a klystron, that is supplied by a low-power rf source. (The construction and operation of microwave components can be reviewed in NEETS, Module 11, Microwave Principles.)

The high-power generator, whether an oscillator or amplifier, requires operating power in the form of a properly-timed, high-amplitude, rectangular pulse. This pulse is supplied by a transmitter unit called the MODULATOR. When a high-power oscillator is used, the modulator high-voltage pulse switches the oscillator on and off to supply high-power electromagnetic energy. When a microwave power amplifier is used, the modulator pulse activates the amplifier just before the arrival of an electromagnetic pulse from a preceding stage or a frequency-generation source.

Normally, because of the extremely high voltage involved, the modulator pulse is supplied to the cathode of the power tube and the plate is at ground potential to shield personnel from shock hazards. The modulator pulse may be more than 100,000 volts in high-power radar transmitters. In any case, radar transmitters produce voltages, currents, and radiation hazards that are extremely dangerous to personnel. Safety precautions must always be strictly observed when working in or around a radar transmitter.


A duplexer is essentially an electronic switch that permits a radar system to use a single antenna to both transmit and receive. The duplexer must connect the antenna to the transmitter and disconnect the antenna from the receiver for the duration of the transmitted pulse. The receiver must be completely isolated from the transmitted pulse to avoid damage to the extremely sensitive receiver input circuitry.

After the transmitter pulse has ended, the duplexer must rapidly disconnect the transmitter and connect the receiver to the antenna. As previously mentioned, the switching time is called receiver recovery time, and must be very fast if close-in targets are to be detected. Additionally, the duplexer should absorb very little power during either phase of operation. Low-loss characteristics are particularly important during the receive period of duplexer operation. This is because the received signals are of extremely low amplitude.

Antenna System

The antenna system routes the pulse from the transmitter, radiates it in a directional beam, picks up the returning echo, and passes it to the receiver with a minimum of loss. The antenna system includes the antenna, transmission lines and waveguide from the transmitter to the antenna, and the transmission line and waveguide from the antenna to the receiver. In some publications the duplexer is included as a component of the antenna system.


The receiver accepts the weak echo signals from the antenna system, amplifies them, detects the pulse envelope, amplifies the pulses, and then routes them to the indicator. One of the primary functions of the radar receiver is to convert the frequency of the received echo signal to a lower frequency that is easier to amplify. This is because radar frequencies are very high and difficult to amplify. This lower frequency is called the INTERMEDIATE FREQUENCY (IF).

The type of receiver that uses this frequency conversion technique is the SUPER HETERODYNE RECEIVER. Superheterodyne receivers used in radar systems must have good stability and extreme sensitivity. Stability is ensured by careful design and the overall sensitivity is greatly increased by the use of many IF stages.


The indicator uses the received signals routed from the radar receiver to produce a visual indication of target information. The cathode-ray oscilloscope is an ideal instrument for the presentation of radar data. This is because it not only shows a variation of a single quantity, such as voltage, but also gives an indication of the relative values of two or more quantities.

The sweep frequency of the radar indicator is determined by the pulse-repetition frequency of the radar system. Sweep duration is determined by the setting of the range-selector switch. Since the indicator is so similar to an oscilloscope, the term RADAR SCOPE is commonly used when referring to radar indicators.

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