2.3 Mission Application

Knowledge Base  /  Radar Enhances Situational Awareness  /  Mission Application

2.3 Mission Application

SAR radar systems are capable of automatically turning SAR imagery into multiple real-time data products through several available modes. Due to the multimode capabilities of SAR systems, operators and analysts have considerable flexibility in switching and combining modes to produce intelligent results for multiple applications:

Battle Damage Assessment

Border Patrol

Convoy Overwatch




Disaster Support

Force Protection

Forest Fire Detection

High Value Target Tracking

Ice Flow Monitoring

Maritime Patrol

Illegal Fishing

Oil Spill Detection

Range Clearing

Route Clearance

Search & Rescue

Maritime Patrol Focused Search

The diagram below illustrates a typical maritime patrol focused search CONOP, such as a search and rescue.


Maritime Patrol Focused Search CONOP

An intel hit comes in indicating that a vessel is likely inbound in a certain region during a certain timeframe, but the precise location is not known. Or, in a search-and-rescue CONOP, maritime patrol is searching for lost vessels, debris fields, life rafts, or persons at their last known location.

Mission specialists designate a search area box that will give a high probability of intercept, and fly the Maritime Patrol Radar (MPR) along the 4 edges of the search box, collecting SAR images and/or MMTI data, looking inward to minimize blind spots and time spent in transit.  


The MPR indicates possible targets and uses MMTI mode to provide geolocated detections and tracks containing bearing and speed information.

Example of MMTI (Maritime Moving Target Indicator)

The sensor operator uses the detections and tracks to cross cue an EO/IR sensor. MPR data is compared with EO/IR and AIS data to identify the target. Relevant targets are then monitored and information is relayed to authorities. 

Counter-Drug/Counter-Trafficking in Maritime Environment

In a similar but extended CONOP, mission specialists in counter-drug or counter-trafficking efforts employ radar to accomplish steps 1 – 4 as described in the Maritime Patrol Focused Search above, with the mission continuing.


Maritime Counter-Drug/Counter-Trafficking CONOP

Fog rolls into the region. When environmental conditions such as high humidity, haze, fog, cloud cover, or darkness inhibit the effectiveness of the EO/IR system in identifying or classifying a target, sensor operators employ an Inverse SAR mode (ISAR), giving them the ability to focus on a target of interest. The radar transitions to a spotlight SAR mode on the target and begins outputting ISAR frames that can be used to identify the vessel. (In traditional SAR mapping mode, targets on water are blurred due to the vessel’s motion. The Inverse SAR mode relies on the pitching and rolling motion of the vessel to focus the imagery and identify features such as the size and number of masts).

To further detect targets, operators employ the radar to perform wide-area, coarse-resolution SAR mapping with Sector Scan to cover large swaths of the ocean and littoral environments, looking for slow and small targets. (Unlike camera systems, the radar is able to detect objects smaller than imaging resolution cell size, or sub-pixel sized objects. This allows small objects to be detected even when operating in a coarse resolution, wide-area mapping mode. Because the radar uses a tactical grade navigation solution and does not need to rely on autofocus algorithms during SAR image formation, it is able to form high quality images over low-return, water-only scenes as well as in littoral environments. This is one of the key advantages to having a multimode radar system as opposed to a conventional rotating radar.)


Motion tracking indicates that a vessel has reached the shore. Using MMTI and ISAR for maritime and GMTI/DMTI and CCD for land, mission specialists can continue employing the radar in both littoral and inland environments to identify the source of illegal operations. Analysts combine multiple high resolution SAR passes to generate change detection (GMTI and CCD) products that highlight boat launch points along coast lines or river banks. They can also monitor unimproved air fields, roads, and other facilities to establish patterns of life and attack the network supporting illegal operations. Relevant targets are then monitored and information is relayed to authorities. 

Border Patrol

In a land-based CONOP, mission specialists employ multiple radar modes to patrol borders.


Maritime Counter-Drug/Counter-Trafficking CONOP

Mission specialists fly a manned aircraft parallel to the border, mapping the area with SAR imaging on consecutive flights. They cover both sides of the border searching for ingress and egress points.


An analyst uses CCD images to identify areas where illegal border crossings have occurred between flights. CCD is capable of tracking pedestrian traffic in open and mountainous terrain.

Example of CCD (Coherent Change Detection)

By using traffic patterns discovered with previous CCD passes,  the analyst identifies areas to target and employ GMTI/DMTI to detect, classify, and track any suspicious vehicle or dismount activity across large swaths of land.


An analyst verifies activity from sensor detections by cross cueing and EO/IR sensor. 


Mission specialists direct ground units to further investigate.

Force Protection/Convoy Overwatch/Route Reconnaissance

Unmanned aircraft equipped with radar and EO/IR can perform multiple operations to protect personnel and equipment.


Force & Equipment Protection CONOP

Mission specialists fly a single Group 1-3 UAS to perform wide-area scans with SAR imaging and GMTI to determine pattern of life.

From a ground station, an analyst directs the radar to employ SAR and CCD along patrol and supply routes to detect ground disturbances indicating areas where roadside IEDs or other hazards may have been emplaced.

An analyst uses GMTI/DMTI modes to detect and track any suspicious activity in the vicinity of forward operating bases, observation posts, patrol bases and other fixed installations.


An analyst directs the radar to cross cue an EO/IR and/or provide the precise location and image the area of interest. 


Ground units can further investigate or provide intelligence to appropriate authorities.

Flood/Fire/Natural Disaster

Manned aircraft equipped with complementary radar and EO payloads are ideal for monitoring natural disasters.


Natural Disaster Monitoring CONOP

In a manned aircraft, mission specialists use EO and SAR imaging to map the disaster area in real time. 

Analysts overlay the EO images with SAR images to identify flood/fire lines.

Mission specialists revisit the disaster sites at periodic intervals to update maps.

Specialists analyze the progression of flood or fire lines by comparing the SAR images from different intervals, producing CCD products.


CCD image in IMSAR’s Lisa 3D software with analyst annotation shows the fire line of an active wildland fire.

For more information, contact IMSAR sales@imsar.com.


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Updated Mar. 22, 2021

2.2 Multimode Capability

Knowledge Base  /  Radar Enhances Situational Awareness  /  Multimode Capability

2.2 Multimode Capability

Multimode radar systems offer a variety of modes for collecting radar data and creating actionable intelligence in real time. These modes, including moving target indication and change detection, deliver data products relevant to a variety of ISR applications. Add in the capabilities of producing high-resolution imagery at great distances and covering large search areas quickly in a variety of available bands, and you have a powerhouse system equipped to give you exceptional situational awareness. 

  • High-resolution imagery at great distances
  • Rapid wide area search
  • Moving target detecting and tracking (land and maritime)
  • Change detection
  • Other modes for specific applications

High-Resolution Imagery at Great Distances

Unlike optical resolution, SAR image resolution does not degrade with increased distance. You can achieve the same image resolution whether the radar sensor is 10 km or 32 km away from the target, assuming the radar has enough power to illuminate at these distances. A SAR image is similar to a black-and-white optical image, except the pixels indicate the brightness, or magnitude, of reflection at that location. Range resolution is a function of the transmitted and received bandwidth, while azimuth resolution is a function of your synthetic aperture, which is created by “dragging” the antenna through space and time.

High-Res SAR Image

Long-Range SAR. In this urban image, roads and other features are easily distinguishable.

High-resolution SAR is a diverse capability with applications in nearly any situation in which details on the earth’s surface need to be observed (and sometimes even when details need to be observed below the surface). For example, SAR imagery has been used to monitor changes or anomalies in arctic sea ice.

SAR Image of Sea Ice

SAR Image of Sea Ice from IMSAR’s ONESAR at 0.1 m Range Resolution

Rapid Wide-Area Search

Both traditional and synthetic aperture radars have the ability to cover large areas in a relatively short amount of time. Moving Target Indication (MTI) performed by SAR is able to cover wide areas because they typically have large beamwidths, on the order of 5 to 20 degrees, which create a large footprint in a single look. By combining multiple looks in rapid succession, the radar can cover wide areas quickly. An Electronically Scanning Array, or ESA, is needed to rapidly collect these multiple looks, since an ESA has the ability to change beam location in fractions of a second.  

Maritime-Wide Area Search in Lisa3D

IMSAR Radar Wide-Area Search. IMSAR’s system software, Lisa 3D, interfaces with the radar to display radar data. Objects moving toward the sensor are marked in pink. Objects moving  away from the sensor are yellow.

SAR systems can also cover wide areas using coarse-resolution mapping.This approach is typically reserved for ocean and littoral environments when looking for slow and small targets; however, it can also be used to image over land. Unlike camera systems, radar is able to detect objects smaller than imaging resolution cell size, or subpixel sized objects. 


Wide-Area Search

Moving Target Detecting and Tracking

Through their MTI modes, SAR radars can detect abnormalities on land or sea. Once objects are detected, the MTI modes can use multiple detections to track the target to obtain speed and heading. 

Land Targets: Ground and Dismount Moving Target Indication (GMTI/DMTI)

With GMTI/DMTI mode, operators/analysts can detect and track moving ground targets in real time, including both vehicles and dismounts. GMTI is performed by comparing the returns of the radar signal from multiple receive antennas, cancelling out the stationary background, and isolating the moving objects. GMTI outputs are simple dots that cue the operator where movement is occuring, thereby reducing the operator’s work load. GMTI processing can be especially helpful in the collection of accurate ISR in all weather, day and night, when other sensors fall short. By continuously updating radar images of a specific area, real-time geolocations of multiple targets can be obtained and displayed on a map or satellite image. When combined with SAR imagery and CCD/MCD, GMTI can be used to efficiently perform patterns-of-life analysis. 


MTI Detects and Tracks Overlaid on an Optical Map. Actual optical imagery (left) and GMTI data overlaid on Google Earth imagery (right) of the same vehicle.

Maritime Targets: Maritime Moving Target Indication (MMTI)

SAR radars have a moving target indication mode, MMTI, specifically optimized for operations over water. MMTI mode uses Doppler to automatically search for, detect, and track moving targets and other objects in maritime and littoral environments. MMTI can be used to perform a focused search by commanding the radar to continuously monitor a preselected area of interest, or perform a wide-area search in which the radar uses a scan pattern to optimize the search area. SAR sensors can search vast areas of ocean for moving targets, perform wide-area imaging to find stationary targets, and perform high-resolution imaging to collect detailed images of targets. 

Detecting and Tracking Vessels, with AIS Data

Detection and Tracking of Vessels, with AIS Data to Corroborate. NOTE: The targets depicted in this diagram were targets of opportunity, and the detection ranges do not represent the maximum ranges of IMSAR radar system capabilities

Change Detection

Subtle changes in an area can be difficult to detect from human observation or optical images alone. Because radar sees roughness, it can detect disturbances in surfaces, such as minute changes caused by tire tracks and footprints in the dirt, which might be unobservable by the human eye. In maritime environments SAR systems are capable of processing coherent change detection along beaches and shorelines to find ingress and egress points to the water. NOTE: CCD does not work over water because the surface of the water is in a state of constant change.

CCD compares multiple SAR images of the same area collected at different times and automatically detects and highlights changes that occurred in that area between the data collections. MCD highlights magnitude changes, such as vehicles that enter or leave the scene, while CCD highlights phase changes as subtle as vehicle tracks or footprints. CCD products display as black highlights against a faded white background and MCD products as blue (new) and red (fled) highlights.


CCD/MCD. Actual CCD/MCD imagery showing vehicle tracks in black and vehicle/target changes in red/blue using a red fled, blue new coloring scheme

Other Modes for Specific Applications

SAR systems are capable of several additional specialized radar data products. The following additional modes are available with IMSAR radars, but are not necessarily exclusive to IMSAR radars.

SAR Motion Video (SMV)

Produces a live stream of the radar imagery, which is replayable, and provides a context that might be lost in individual still images. The output of SMV is similar to that of Full Motion Video (FMV), although it typically updates at a slower rate.

SMV and Full-Motion Video (FMV) of the Same Intersection. SMV (left) supplements the imagery produced by FMV (right) by providing continuous, real-time sensor coverage when FMV cannot, such as during cloud cover, night skies, or Degraded Visual Environments (DVE).


IMSAR has advanced its radars’ multimode capabilities to include a real-time Inverse Synthetic Aperture Radar (ISAR) processing mode, which will enable high resolution imaging of moving vessels for measurement and classification. The ISAR mode enhancement, in which two-dimensional, high resolution images of maritime targets can be generated, is a valuable advantage in maritime applications, since it relies on the motion of targets on water rather than the movement of the radar to generate images. This mode provides target imaging in all weather, which is especially important in maritime environments since they are notorious for poor weather conditions.

ISAR Data from Maritime Collection with the IMSAR NSP-7. These ISAR images (left: 0.1m resolution) and (right: 0.3m resolution) were taken of the craft pictured in the center, with the following specifications: 10,000′ AGL, 25-degree depression/grazing angle, 4 mile standoff range, sunny conditions. 

Sector Scan

Sector scan mode is a subset of Moving Target Indication. This mode allows for a maximum amount of surface area to be covered by the radar, so it is especially useful for wide-area searches. 

Sector Scan

Sector Scan Mode. The red shape represents the Field of Regard for the radar, with the radar being located at the center of the small circle (upper left-hand corner). The green shading shows the radar’s current scanning area, and the green outline represents the sector scan area the radar is preset to cover.


Since foliage canopies create barriers that can reflect signals and prevent them from reaching the objects and terrain below, nefarious actors often conceal infrastructure and illegal activity below the canopy. Optical and infrared sensors do not penetrate through foliage and can even be reflected by other, less dense barriers including clouds and smoke. In low-frequency UWB radar systems, long wavelength signals naturally penetrate foliage and detect man-made objects, such as buildings and vehicles, directly through the foliage. FOPEN applications include stemming illegal activities such as deforestation and drug manufacturing and trafficking activity.

For more information, contact IMSAR sales@imsar.com.


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Updated May 14th, 2021

2.1 Operating Environment

Knowledge Base  /  Radar Enhances Situational Awareness  /  Operating Environment

2.1 Operating Environment

A highly adept and robust technology, radar will perform well under nearly any environmental condition. Not only is it an effective tool in both land and maritime environments, but it has a unique way of illuminating the world, giving us power to see beyond the visible. It illuminates darkness, sees through clouds, and penetrates smoke.

Radar sensors complement EO/IR sensors well, adapting to environments in which optical and infrared systems are compromised. Unlike an optical system, a radar system transmits and receives its own energy signal and doesn’t rely on the sun, which means it can provide the same quality data products during the day and at night. While infrared systems can generate nighttime images by sensing the heat signatures of objects, the infrared frequencies are affected by degraded visual environments, such as in smoke and dust, and in adverse weather conditions such as in clouds, fog, and precipitation. In contrast, the signal transmitted and received by radar systems uses a significantly longer wavelength than that of optical and infrared sensors, which allows the radar to penetrate obscurants such as clouds, fog, dust, smoke, and precipitation. Because of these characteristics, radar systems can generate fine-resolution imagery, detect changes, and track moving targets during the day, at night, and in adverse weather conditions and degraded environments.


Illumination in the Dark

It’s obvious that when the sun isn’t shining, optical sensors are limited without some alternative light source. Since a radar system provides its own energy source, it can transmit and receive energy to create images at night. Another advantage of radar producing its own illumination reveals itself even in clear daylight. Users can simply choose to collect data from optimum look angles to extract the maximum amount of detail from their target, as opposed to waiting for the sun or another energy source to be at the correct angle for the sensor to get “the shot”. In other words, with radar you can position the energy source where you want it, when you want it there. The freedom of various collection angles is not possible with a passive sensor.

For example, notice the different angles of the shadows in a comparison of the optical and SAR images below. Assuming the same north-to-south orientation of the optical and radar sensors when these images were taken, the radar sensor illuminates the areas where the sun casts shadows. The radar’s orientation could be changed to illuminate a scene from any angle, shedding light on any areas darkened by the earth’s orientation to the sun.


Optical image with shadows to the northeast


SAR image of the same scene with illumination of areas where the sun cast shadows in the optical image

Clarity Through Adverse Weather Conditions

As an example of radar’s ability to work in adverse weather, in late 2020, one of IMSAR’s customers gave us feedback on the all-weather capabilities of our NSP radar systems. They were supporting an exercise on a manned aircraft equipped with an NSP-7 system in front of coalition partners. The radar was able to identify and track targets when other sensors failed due to the low-visibility weather conditions.

The side-by-side comparison of optical and radar images during inclement weather in the figure below shows the advantages of using radar sensors to complement EO/IR sensors.


Still Shots from SMV and FMV Data Collections in a Maritime Environment. Real-time data was collected from both an IMSAR NSP radar system’s SMV mode (upper screen) and an MX-15 optical FMV camera (lower screens) of a large container ship. Although the optical images were at times obscured by fog, the IMSAR radar penetrated the fog to obtain SMV images. (Note: The optical camera images show telescopic on the left and wide angle on the right).

Penetration of Smoke

Another experience shows radar’s ability to operate in degraded visual environments. IMSAR deployed radar sensor packages to the Indianola Type 1 and 2 Incident Command Post during the Coal Hollow Fire event in Utah County, Utah during August 2018. The fire burned 31,661 acres of land in mountainous terrain and threatened highway corridors, railways, utilities, and residential areas. The radar sensors demonstrated smoke-penetrating imagery in a side-looking configuration. IMSAR assisted the Type 1 and 2 Incident Commanders by providing over 200 square miles of radar imagery and 750 square miles of high and medium resolution EO imagery of the rapidly expanding wildfire area. As a result of the data collection, approximately 320 miles of active and inactive fire perimeter were marked and mapped and 34 individual hotspots (active fire areas) were detected using the IMSAR EO, MWIR, and SAR/CCD data.

Radar Produces Clear Imagery in Smoky Conditions. Optical images on left show the degraded visual conditions during the Coal Hollow Fire. Radar images overlaid on optical images on the right show radar’s ability to penetrate the smoke and produce clear images of the terrain below.

Effective Data Processing on Both Land and Sea

Radars are capable of collecting imaging and data for advanced processing in both land and maritime environments. Radar energy transmitted to the surface of a body of water often reflects in many other directions, and in many cases the reflected energy does not return to the sensor. This phenomenon creates a dark canvas on which reflected energy from floating objects will show very distinctive returns.


Littoral Environment

MMTI in Lisa 3D

Maritime Image Displayed in IMSAR’s Lisa 3D Software. Actual maritime data from IMSAR’s radar system shows the detection of multiple vessels within a single scene.

Environmental Testing and Performance 

The following test results of our NSP-7 radar system illustrate the environmental robustness of radar. The system was tested for operation in extreme environments to MIL-STD-810G requirements, as summarized in the table below. Furthermore, because the radar is housed inside of a weather tight housing, this acts as a radome, which simplifies integration for many aircraft.

Parameter Value
Operational Temperature 

(Airborne Equipment)

-32 to 54 degrees C @ all altitudes (Tx off)

-32 to 37 degrees C ambient (Med Tx power)

-32 to 13 degrees C ambient (High Tx power)

Operational Temperature 

(Ground Equipment)

5 to 35 degrees C
Storage Temperature -40 to 85 degrees C
Temperature Shock 2.78 degrees C per minute
Operational Vibration Anticipated to meet Mil-STD-810G Method 514.6 Procedure I Operational Vibration Annex D Category 13 Propeller Aircraft
Shock Load in Longitudinal Direction 20g
Shock Load in All Other Directions 10g
Rain MIL-STD-810G Method 506.5 Procedure I (4 inches blowing at 40 mph for 30 minutes)
Salt Spray Surface treatment for protection
Humidity 100% relative humidity

Results from MIL-STD-810G Testing Performed on the NSP-7 Radar System 

Contact IMSAR at sales@imsar.com for more information.


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2.3 Mission Application

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5.1 Collection Planning

Updated Mar. 22, 2021

2. Radar Enhances Situational Awareness

Knowledge Base  /  Radar Enhances Situational Awareness

2. Top 3 Ways Radar Enhances Situational Awareness

Decision makers involved in Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance missions rely on relevant and timely data to gain situational awareness. Within their areas of responsibility, they seek to gain a tactical advantage over any situation, to ensure the safety of their personnel, and to decisively accomplish their objectives. Today’s multi-INT radars are masters at facilitating situational awareness, as exhibited in the following characteristics: 

  • Operating Environment: Intelligence gathering day or night, in DVEs, on land or sea
  • Multimode Capability: High-resolution imagery at great distances, rapid wide-area search, moving target detection and tracking, and change detection
  • Mission Application: Flexibility in combining modes for various CONOPS
NSP-7 on the King Air C90

IMSAR NSP-7 radar system integrated on a King Air C90

Operating Environment 

The quality of a radar image does not change with the weather or the time of day. Whether over land or in a maritime setting, radars meet the demands of any mission, providing actionable intelligence even through degraded visual environments, such as smoke, haze, or fog.

Example of FMV (Full Motion Video)
Example of SMV (SAR Motion Video)

An FMV image (left) and an IMSAR SMV image (right) of the same intersection during the same conditions

Multimode Capability

With the ability to automatically process data into near real-time imagery or detection and tracking intelligence, SAR systems are capable, robust tools for ISR applications. They offer multiple modes that can be switched between rapidly with a few clicks of a mouse. The operator can use MTI to rapidly scan a large area, then key in on targets and switch to high resolution SAR imaging all on the same orbit or track. If multiple images have been collected (over land) on the same location, the operator can also switch to change detection imagery to see where the target may have moved to or traveled from. These capabilities combine to create powerhouse systems equipped to deliver exceptional situational awareness.

Data products from the multiple modes of IMSAR radars

Mission Application

Since today’s radars can produce data in multiple modes, users have considerable flexibility in switching and combining these modes to produce intelligent results for multiple military and commercial applications, such as counter-trafficking, maritime patrol, and route reconnaissance.

Mission CONOPs: For example, a combination of SAR imaging and CCD modes can be used to produce intelligent data for border protection or counter-drug or counter-trafficking missions.

Capitalizing on radar’s inherent capabilities gives ISR strategists a powerful tool for situational awareness. Contact us to learn more at sales@imsar.com


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Updated Mar. 22, 2021