DARPA reports its new radar sensor captures real-time video in any weather

ARLINGTON, Va. Officials from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) report that the agency's Video Synthetic Aperture Radar (ViSAR) program recently completed flight tests, successfully demonstrating a new sensor that can capture real-time video through clouds.

Central to the ViSAR program -- which launched in 2013 -- has been the development of an extremely high-frequency (EHF) targeting sensor able to operate through clouds as effectively as current electro-optical and infrared (EO/IR) operate in clear weather. VISAR’s goal is to develop a -penetrating EHF sensor in a moveable gimbal that would be mountable on a variety of aerial platforms to provide high-resolution, full-motion video for engaging moving ground targets in all weather conditions, whether clear or cloudy.

The recent ViSAR tests were run using a modified DC-3 aircraft that flew at low and medium altitudes, which enabled researchers to collect and compare data from the ViSAR, EO, and IR sensors mounted on standard sensor gimbals.

“The recent flight tests of the ViSAR sensor marked a major program milestone toward our goal, proving that we can take uninterrupted live video of targets on the ground even when flying through or above clouds,” said Bruce Wallace, program manager in DARPA’s Strategic Technology Office. “The EO/IR sensors on board the test aircraft went blank whenever clouds obscured the view, but the tracked ground objects continuously throughout the flight.”

Wallace also reiterated that while cloud-penetrating -- such as from space or on board other operational systems -- has existed in other formats, there has not been a functioning synthetic aperture sensor, which can fit in a standard EO/IR sensor gimbal on aircraft and maintain frame rates fast enough to track maneuvering targets on the ground.

Next up for the ViSAR program, says DARPA: Integration of the sensor into an aircraft that includes a complete battle-management system that can handle real-time target engagement.