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Office of the Federal Coordinator for Meteorology


Multifunction Phased Array Radar Unified Research and Development Plan

radar upgrades for risk reduction

Image of a multifunction phased array radar from the National Severe Storms Laboratory.

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Multifunction Phased Array Radar Unified Research and Development Plan

Surveillance and weather radar capability constitute a critical part of national infrastructure. Whether being used to forecast tornados or flash floods, safely guide aircraft to and from runways at busy airports, or monitor our skies for potential national defense or terrorist threats, radar helps ensure the safety of our citizens and supports the health of our economy. Unfortunately, all our radar systems are aging, and most will become obsolescent within the next 10 years. In addition, because of the large number of different radar systems in use and their age, they are logistically inefficient and incorporate technologies that do not provide an optimal level of service.

The need for a comprehensive radar replacement program has arisen at an opportune time. Technology that has been providing military surveillance solutions for decades is becoming more affordable for civilian applications. Economies of scale, logistical simplicity, and leveraged technology from the wireless industry have combined to make phased array radar an attractive solution for weather and aircraft surveillance, especially if that surveillance can be conducted using one scalable platform. The Office of the Federal Coordinator for Meteorological Services and Supporting Research has been coordinating a risk reduction effort among the departments that use weather and surveillance radar data in their missions: the Department of Commerce (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration—NOAA), Department of Transportation (Federal Aviation Administration—FAA), Department of Defense, and Department of Homeland Security. The effort focuses on a potential solution referred to as Multifunction Phased Array Radar (MPAR).

Risk reduction for MPAR is feasible in the context of a comprehensive research and development (R&D) program that seeks to leverage radar development work across the Federal agencies, industry, and academia; discourage investment in redundant work; and encourage collaboration among agencies. This document presents a unified plan for R&D to address the primary risks associated with using a phased array radar for the broadest possible spectrum of weather and aircraft surveillance needs. It organizes the various elements of research that together address the key risk reduction issues: cost, multifunctionality, and dual polarization for weather