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LYNX SAR RADAR POWERS AHEAD

20 Apr 04. Jim Thomson, Program manager, Lynx Systems Group, gave BATTLESPACE Editor Julian Nettlefold an overview of the continuing success of the company’s Lynx SAR radar system. Lynx is a fine resolution, real time synthetic-aperture radar (SAR) system. The system was developed by the Department of Energy’s Sandia National Laboratories and General Atomics of San Diego.

Designed to be mounted on both manned aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), the 115-pound SAR is a sophisticated all-weather sensor capable of providing photographic-like images through clouds, in rain or fog and in day or night conditions, all in real time. The SAR produces images of extremely fine resolution, far surpassing current industry standards for synthetic-aperture radar resolution. Depending on weather conditions and imaging resolution, the sensor can operate at a range of up to 85 kilometers. The radar operates in Ku-band with a center frequency of about 16.7 GHz, although the precise value can be tuned to prevent interference with other emitters.

Cameras provided good data, but they don’t work at night or in rainy, foggy and cloudy situations. Fine-resolution image SAR radar is perfect for these circumstances because it can ‘see’ in the dark and peer through clouds and fog. Flying at an altitude of 25,000 feet, the Lynx SAR can produce one-foot resolution imagery at standoff distances of up to 55 kilometers. At a resolution of four inches, the radar can make images of scenes which are 25 kilometers away (about 16 miles) even through clouds and light rain. The radar’s fine resolution allows it to detect small surface penetrations — even footprints in a soft terrain.

The U.S. Army has ordered 6 Lynx radar following the selection against the Northrop Grumman TUAVR radar for Future Combat Systems. The Lynx II radar will be developed for FCS over a 2 year program to deliver 6 systems by May 2005. The weight of the Lynx II has been reduced to 39kgs. Preliminary design reviews were carried out in March of this year. In addition the radar is being looked at for the U.S.A.F. Big Safari project and is a firm favourite for the U.K.’s Watchkeeper programme. In addition to the UAV application, Lynx has been developed for a palletised application for data collection applications onboard a Blackhawk helicopter for the U.S. Army. The system is also being deployed in Colombia onboard a Dash-7 for drug interdiction activities. The system saw action in Bosnia on-board a C-12 in a peacekeeping mission.

New software applications are being developed for the Lynx including a Maritime MTI mode MSAR to enable the tracking of stationary maritime targets.

The Lynx represents a breakthrough on many fronts because the image resolution is so fine and the instrument itself is so light-weight, it represents a technology breakthrough. The real time, interactive nature of the radar and the innovative operator interface, make it a breakthrough for meeting the ease-of-use needs of front-line military users.

Sandia and General Atomics joined forces in 1996 when the San Diego-based company, whose Aeronautical Systems, Inc. affiliate builds a line of unmanned aerial vehicles, wanted to develop an advanced, light-weight SAR system. General Atomics funded Sandia, which already had a sophisticated SAR, to implement an enhanced design as a commercial product and deliver two prototype units together with licenses and manufacturing information to produce the unit.

General Atomics and Sandia spent the next three years working together to refine and enhance the national laboratories’ SAR into a light-weight, user friendly system with extended range and much higher resolution. General Atomics has commenced production of subsequent units for commercial sales. The new SAR will enhance the surveillance capability of the General Atomics Aeronautical Systems UAVs and other reconnaissance aircraft, which previously were equipped only with cameras, infrared sensors

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