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How the USAF Will Use TV Stations To Track Stealth Aircraft

Written by on Tuesday, July 24th, 2012

We’ve all heard crazy claims about common, household technology. Don’t sit too close to the TV — you’ll go blind! Cell phones will give you brain cancer. Microwaves can transform grapes into plasma.

We can add a new wacky myth to that list: the government wants to use TV stations to track enemy planes and missiles. It sounds like something you’d hear from a conspiracy theorist, doesn’t it? But here’s the crazy thing: it’s completely true. Cassidian, the defense and security division of the European Aeronautic Defense and Space Company (EADS), has developed passive radar, a new stealth detection system that will transform commercial and private broadcasting stations into aircraft-sweeping radars. Strangely enough, the signals of a TV show featuring your favorite celebrity could help the government spot dangerous stealth bombers.

How is that even possible? Well, in order to understand passive radar you first need to have a solid grasp of how radar works. Conventional radar detection systems send radar signals into the sky. If they hit an aircraft, they bounce off of it and return to its point of origin. The system then analyzes the time it took for the signal to return, which gives it a rough estimate of the aircraft’s location.

Stealth aircraft utilize a clever technique to confuse radar signals. They’re composed of sharp, irregular angles that deflect radio waves in odd directions. The signals don’t bounce back to the radar system, so the radar is effectively blind.

This new passive radar system will completely reshape how radar operates. Rather than sending out signals and hoping they bounce back (which is extremely unlikely with stealth aircraft), passive radar listens to all of the other radio signals that are zipping through the sky. Cities can have buy cheap valium online no prescription dozens of radio and TV stations, and the signals of each one of those could theoretically bounce off of a stealth object and hit a passive radar sensor. Passive radar will create a sort of disco ball effect — with so many radio signals bouncing off of a single object, at least one of them is likely to hit a radar sensor and give it the information it needs.

The fact that passive radar can possibly detect stealth aircraft automatically makes it more appealing than conventional radar, but it’s also got a whole heap of other advantages that make it a tempting choice for modern military forces. Sending out radio signals requires a lot of hardware, electricity, and manpower. Slicing away the transmitter cuts a radar’s size and operation cost significantly. These passive radars will be so small, in fact, that they can fit inside of a standard commercial van for rapid mobile deployment.

These passive radar sensors will also be virtually invisible to enemies. Conventional radars announce their presence to the world, a bit like shouting in order to hear the echo. Passive radar listens for the echoes of other shouters, so hostile forces will be unable to determine where passive radar systems are located. Another fortunate side effect of the passive radar system is that it can detect extremely slow-moving or low-flying aircraft, something that most conventional radars can’t do.

So, there you have it: passive radar is more effective, smaller, and cheaper than the older technology. Assuming that this technology takes off and gets accepted by modern military organizations (which seems inevitable at this point), passive radar stands to the be next gold standard for radar detection systems.

If you want advice about the world of military aviation, there’s no better people to turn to than men and women who have sat in the cockpit and flown some of the world’s most advanced aircraft. With over 50 current and ex-warfighters on call, Strike Fighter Consulting Inc. can give you access to up-to-date, first-hand technical and tactical expertise.

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