Blog: No money for systems upgrades threatens to maintain wind-farm radar dead spots

Dec. 3, 2013
THE MIL & AERO BLOG, 3 Dec. 2013. Whoever imagined that air safety, national defense, and renewable energy would come into conflict, but this is the situation today in which we find ourselves.
THE MIL & AERO BLOG, 3 Dec. 2013. Whoever imagined that air safety, national defense, and renewable energy would come into conflict, but this is the situation today in which we find ourselves.

The problem involves radar systems for air defense, air traffic control, and weather monitoring, which do not get along well with electricity-generating wind turbines clustered together in what we know of as wind farms.

Most radar systems are set up to detect and track moving objects, and filter out stationary objects that are not of interest. That's how radar tells the difference between helicopters and tall trees. Wind turbines, however, are stationary AND moving objects, and to radar systems they look like moving aircraft. Wind farms also can confuse weather radar that can mistake massed turbines for storms.

The spinning turbine blades create massive fields of radar clutter that not only confuse radar systems, but also have the potential to conceal drug smugglers, fugitives, or even a sneak aircraft or cruise missile attack.

If you want to cloak a plane from radar surveillance, in other words, find a wind farm to hide in.

The real issue isn't radar technology itself; modern phased-array radar and advanced digital signal processing are more than capable of contending effectively with wind farm clutter. The central issue is money. Most air-defense and air-traffic-control radar systems deployed today never were designed to operate in close proximity with wind farms.

To cut through wind-farm clutter, many of today's radars would need substantial systems upgrades and technology insertion. One the one hand this represents a promising business opportunity for radar designers, embedded computing experts, and software developers. On the other hand, however, there is little money to pay for these upgrades.

Until the necessary radar upgrades can be made, the growing number of wind farms dotting the landscape will continue to cause dead spots in important radar coverage.

About the Author

John Keller | Editor

John Keller is editor-in-chief of Military & Aerospace Electronics magazine, which provides extensive coverage and analysis of enabling electronic and optoelectronic technologies in military, space, and commercial aviation applications. A member of the Military & Aerospace Electronics staff since the magazine's founding in 1989, Mr. Keller took over as chief editor in 1995.

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