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SAR radar technology and deception capability examined at armasuisse S+T

As part of the «Reconnaissance and Surveillance» research programme in the Sensory Analysis sector of armasuisse Science and Technology (S+T), various radar sensors for aerial and ground reconnaissance are being examined, including the MIRANDA35-SAR technology demonstrator. A two-week measurement study with this experimental system took place in Switzerland in August 2021.

16.09.2021 | Andreas Zihlmann, scientific project manager Sensory Analysis sector, armasuisse Science and Technology

The ultra-light aeroplane with the MIRANDA35-SAR sensor under the right wing on the military airfield in Emmen.
The ultra-light aeroplane with the MIRANDA35-SAR sensor under the right wing on the military airfield in Emmen.

The MIRANDA35-SAR sensor from armasuisse S+T is based on what is known as SAR technology. SAR stands for Synthetic Aperture Radar. SAR radar devices generate a two-dimensional radar image on the earth’s surface. The imaging radar device thus emits radar radiation and, using complex algorithms, converts the radiation reflected by the target into an almost photographic image, which enables the images to be interpreted by humans.

This type of radar device is often fitted on aircraft to allow imagery intelligence of ground activities regardless of weather conditions. In order to assess the technical limits of this technology, armasuisse S+T is cooperating with the Fraunhofer Research Institute FHR and the University of Zurich. Together with these research partners, armasuisse S+T carried out a measurement study in Switzerland from 16-27 August 2021. Test areas of the reconnaissance flight included Grenchen and Thun. One goal of the study was to combine the use of the SAR sensor with the use of a radar target simulator (RTS). A RTS system receives the radar signals, interprets and manipulates them, and can then return a signal within a short space of time. This type of device is usually used to quantify the quality limits of radar devices in procurement contracts. In this study, on the other hand, it was attempted to falsify the radar image using armasuisse S+T’s RTS system and thus to impede radar reconnaissance from the air.

Evaluation and analysis of the images is not yet completed. However, there are first indications that the attempt was successful: The SAR image could be manipulated using the RTS. In future, we would like to protect important infrastructures and military bases from radar-based imagery intelligence in this manner.