Electronic Weapons: Keeping An Eye On The Roads With Robots


December 26, 2008:  A breakthrough in Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) design has resulted in systems weighing less than twenty pounds. These can be carried in small UAVs. The max effective range of these miniature SARs is ten kilometers, while larger SARs, weighing about 110 pounds, it is 25 kilometers. This is for the finest resolution, where the image can show people planning roadside bombs, or engaging in other mischief. SAR can see through clouds and sand storms.

The smaller SARs can be put on smaller (than Predator) UAVs, and used to patrol roads for hostile activity (setting up ambushes as well as laying roadside bombs). This is what is planned for Afghanistan, where there are longer, and more remote, roads to keep clean, than was the case in Iraq. Because of the billions of dollars going into defeating IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices), miniature SARs on UAVs are showing up a decade or more earlier than would have been the case in peacetime. It's not just the money, and sense of urgency, being available. There's also the opportunity to use the new equipment under combat conditions.

The use of SAR and high resolution vidcams in Iraq was largely responsible for defeating the enemy IED campaign. A similar effort is taking place in Afghanistan. There are fewer IEDs being planted along Afghan roads, but they still cause casualties (mostly among civilians). But the SAR equipped UAV patrols will also make it more difficult for the Taliban or al Qaeda to move discreetly around the back country. SAR and vidcam images are also increasingly analyzed by computers, alerting human analysts only when something potentially useful is spotted.





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