The Radar Range Equation

To derive the RADAR range equation, it is first necessary to define the power density at a distance from an isotropic radiator. An isotropic radiator is a fictional antenna that radiates equally in all directions (azimuthal and elevation angle accounted for). The power density (in watts/sq meter) is given as:

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However, of course RADARs are not going to be isotropic, but rather directional. The power density for this can be taken directly from the isotropic radiator with an additional scaling factor (antenna gain). This simply means that the power is concentrated into a smaller surface area of the sphere. To review, gain is directivity scaled by antenna efficiency. This means that gain accounts for attenuation and loss as it travels through the input port of the antenna to where it is radiated into the atmosphere.

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To determine the received power to a target, this value can be scaled by another value known as RCS (RADAR Cross section) which has units of square meters. The RCS of a target is dependent on three main parameters: interception, reflection and directivity. The RCS is a function of target viewing angle and therefore is not a constant. So in short, the RCS is a unit that describes how much from the target is reflected from the target, how much is intercepted by the target as well as how much as directed back towards the receiver. An invisible stealth target would have an RCS that is zero. So in order to determined received power, the incident power density is scaled by the RCS:

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The power density back at the receiver can then be calculated from the received power, resulting in the range being to the fourth power. This means that if the range of the radar to target is doubled, the received power is reduced by 12 dB (a factor of 16). When this number is scaled by Antenna effective area, the power received at the radar can be found. However it is customary to replace this effective area (which is less than actual area due to losses) with a receive gain term:

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The symbol η represents antenna, and is coefficient between 0 and 1. It is important to note that the RCS value (σ) is an average RCS value, since as discussed RCS is not a constant. For a monostatic radar, the two gain terms can be replaced by a G^2 term because the receive and transmitted gain tends to be the same, especially for mechanically scanned array antennas.

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