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    DARPA Develops Technology to See Maneuvering Targets Through Clouds, Smoke

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    The Video Synthetics Aperture Radar (ViSAR) system successfully completed flight tests getting a glimpse of ground conditions through both smoke and clouds, according to a September 28 Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency announcement.

    The Pentagon’s DARPA may finally have the technology to give pilots an unprecedented view of the ground below where both infrared cameras and synthetic aperture radar (SAR) systems have failed.

    According to Bruce Wallace, program manager at DARPA’s Strategic Technology Office, the flight tests “mark a major milestone” toward getting to the point where DARPA “can take uninterrupted live video of targets on the ground even when flying through or above clouds.”

    Infrared technologies cannot see through clouds at all, even though they can be used to track moving targets, while SAR is “much better for still shots of a static target than continuous streaming video,” Defense One’s Patrick Tucker wrote Monday.  

    ViSAR takes the next step in radar and imaging technology by developing an extremely high frequency targeting sensor as well as a combined “electro-optical and infrared radar” (EO/IR) system to develop a more coherent picture of the battlefield.

    Wallace said “the EO/IR sensors onboard the test aircraft went blank whenever cloud obscured the view, but the synthetic aperture radar tracked ground objects continuously throughout the flight.”

    According to the project manager, “refining the ViSAR sensor’s visualization software to provide operators a representation they’re used to seeing is the next step in the program.”

    “We don’t want operators in the back of aircraft to need special radar training to interpret the sensor’s data – we are working to make the visual interface as easy to interpret” as existing sensor displays, Wallace said.

    DARPA began working on the technology in 2013. 

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