Federal Study Recommends Multi-function Phased Array Weather Radar

June 23, 2006

A new study just released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration details the weather-prediction benefits of a national transition from existing weather radar systems to a newer system using a multifunction phased array radar. Such a system would make future tropical storm and hurricane prediction more accurate and could have long-range effects on the insurance industry by making such catastrophic weather predictions more accurate than those now available from existing systems.

The recently published study recommends that a new domestic radar strategy begin with a detailed analysis of technical and cost issues related to transitioning to the phased-array radar system.

Phased-array radar technology has been used operationally by the U.S. military since the 1970s. For civilian aircraft and weather surveillance, a multifunction phased-array radar can greatly improve capability while reducing life-cycle costs because multiple radar applications can be performed with the same radar unit. The beam’s maneuverability and increased resolution can enable a single phased-array radar unit to perform multiple weather and atmospheric surveillance tasks and, at the same time, track multiple airborne craft. The electronically scanning array panels of a phased-array radar can accomplish diverse surveillance tasks much more quickly, flexibly and at higher resolution than can the mission-specific, rotating antenna systems in use today.

The study was conducted and published under the supervision of the Office of the Federal Coordinator for Meteorological Services and Supporting Research. A preliminary cost evaluation contained in the study shows that a phased-array radar network designed to meet multiple national needs would cost less over its lifetime to be developed, implemented and maintained than sustaining the existing radar networks through required maintenance and incremental upgrades.

“We will take a close look at all viable options in great detail because of the critical economic and life-saving impacts that are derived from our national radar systems,” said retired Navy Vice Adm. Conrad Lautenbacher, Ph.D., undersecretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator. “It is essential that we always seek to improve the services that we provide our nation, whether it is through better work processes or through advancing technology.

The joint action group that authored the study is composed of representatives of federal agencies that currently utilize radar assets for their day-to-day operations. In all, 12 agencies had direct contributions to the study. The study is accessible online at:

“This study has provided an invaluable roadmap to evaluate the potential for phased-array technology to meet our nation’s future aircraft and weather radar needs,” said Samuel P. Williamson, federal coordinator for meteorology. “The aging of our existing domestic radar networks will require substantial commitments of federal resources to either maintain or replace them. Multifunction phased-array radar is a very promising technology that is poised to increase our capabilities, as well as reduce our overall costs. Those are two winning factors. I urge Federal agencies with a stake in any of the applications enabled by surveillance radar to study the report and consider integrating its recommendations into their research and development programs.”

In the study, the Joint Action Group recommends that before implementing a new national domestic radar strategy, a risk-reduction research and development program should be conducted. The study would provide a sound technical and cost basis for a national decision between use of phased-array radar technology or continuing maintenance of the aging, existing radar systems. The group also recommends the establishment of a joint entity to manage agencies’ contributions to research and development, as well as to oversee the research program.

Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

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