Phased-array radar systems are growing in popularity and regularly finding new applications with advancements in technology.
Beamforming for example allows the radar to scan an area without any mechanical parts physically moving the antenna. It can also produce a pattern of multiple beams, each covering a cross section of the 360° plane.
Another major advantages of a phased-array antenna is that the antenna array controls permit very fast jumps from one target to another (in the order of microseconds), which allows tracking of multiple targets.
Also, the array’s gain within the beam is very high, which leads to improved detection.
Phased arrays were invented for use in military radar systems, to steer a beam of radio waves quickly across the sky to detect planes and missiles.
Today, phased-array radar systems have evolved so that this technology is used in civilian applications also.
A phased array is a group of antennas whose effective (summed) radiation pattern can be altered by phasing the signals of the individual elements. By varying the phasing of the different elements, the radiation pattern can be modified to be maximized / suppressed in given directions, within limits determined by various factors, such as:
- The radiation pattern of the elements
- The size of the array
- The configuration of the array
There are a wide variety of phased array antennas available. Its design complexity ranges from small arrays with switchable elements and partially electromechanically steerable antenna arrays to fully electronically steerable antenna arrays.
These systems are equipped with amplitude and phase shifters for each element and employs digital beam forming techniques. These steerable antenna arrays are extensively used in satellite tracking, broadcasting, communication and radar applications.
The benefits of phased-array radar systems are considerable: The do not require moving a large structure around the sky for pointing and they are fast steering. Also phased-array radar systems are made up of distributed, solid-state transmitters as opposed to single RF sources. This translates into less warmup time, no need for complex feed system and elimination of single-point failures.
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