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.