Colorado State University Researcher Develops Real-Time Radar for Military, Commercial Planes Flying in Congested Skies

Radar technology developed by a Colorado State math professor will enable military planes to separate multiple airborne objects in a fraction of a second and differentiate false targets from real targets in cluttered skies–a major advancement in aeronautical radar systems.

Professor Aubrey B. Poore formulated and solved complicated mathematical equations that improved radar systems aboard Airborne Warnings And Control Systems (AWACS) radar planes without the need to install additional hardware, which adds weight to the planes.

The technology also could be used in commercial airplanes to avoid mid-air collisions, help United States law enforcement agencies better track boats and airplanes suspected of carrying illegal narcotics, and improve traffic reports from the sky.

In 1996, Poore was awarded a United States patent for his inventions, and another patent is pending. Poore and IBM-Federal Systems in Boulder (now Lockheed-Martin Federal Systems Inc.) were awarded one joint patent on a portion of the technology in 1995.

"It was a high-risk research project attempting to solve a problem that in all probability could not be solved," Poore said. "To have this project succeed is a real credit to the graduate students involved, the department of mathematics and the university for its strong support of the research effort."

Radar currently used in military aircraft can separate and identify multiple objects in the air but only from a limited distance and in limited degrees, said Poore. When air traffic is dense, it can take weeks or months for an air traffic controller to match the behavior of an unknown object with an actual target.

Poore’s technology isolates and identifies airborne objects even amid conditions that create false targets on a radar screen- -such as weather and other environmental conditions–and does it in a fraction of a second, or real-time. This feature enables radar operators to track objects even as they pass through areas with a lot of clutter.

"We’ll be able to save a lot of processing time and energy that would have otherwise been spent trying to isolate real targets from objects that produce a false reading on the radar screen," said Marty Liggins, who oversees surveillance research at the Air Force Research Laboratory in Rome, N.Y. "This technology will help cut work in identifying and tracking objects by orders of magnitude."

The technology was tested extensively over the last two years at Hanscom Air Force Base in Boston, Mass., and chosen in September as the best tracking system for AWACS in a national competition, Poore said. The research has been continually supported by the mathematics and geosciences division of the Air Force Office of Scientific Research and the Air Force Research Laboratory in Rome.

Lockheed-Martin Federal Systems won the right to install Poore’s technology into existing radar systems in 12 Air Force AWACS planes. These planes will be used for additional tests before they are put into operation. In addition, several private companies already have expressed interest in the technology for commercial airplanes and other uses, Poore said.

"This is an important development because it transfers vital research from the university to real-world applications in industry," said Judson Harper, vice president for research and information technology at Colorado State. "We are proud that research of this calibre has such far-reaching effects."

Poore already is working on other research to solve the limitations of airborne radar to identify and track multiple objects on the ground. The professor was awarded a $400,000 grant over the next three years from the Air Force to develop mathematical equations and algorithms that can isolate targets amid ground clutter from multiple airborne platforms.