Radar extends and enhances the Dismounted Soldier System
“Information is the warfighter’s advantage” is more than a slogan. Doctrine, TTPs, departmental policy, procurement projections and commercial development activity across western nations demonstrate the commitment to informing and enabling the modern soldier. Dismounted Solider Systems (DSS) are championed because they deliver two important benefits: heightened awareness for the warfighter leading to enhanced safety and performance, and a significant extension of Command capabilities through robust voice and data communications with forward operating units.
The Dismounted Soldier System has five categories for evaluation of capabilities and strives to achieve a balance on required training versus ease of use, integrated systems versus singular capabilities, standards, interoperability, and trends and trade-offs always present in design choices. Any evaluation of DSS kit must be in the context of Lethality, Command and Control, Sustainment, Mobility and Survivability. Any kit that uses electronics and contributes to awareness must also fit within power consumption and network bandwidth constraints.
The word “RADAR” tends to conjure images of large systems, self-driven, towed, or mounted to vehicles. Even larger radar systems on coastlines and ships create a baseline for situational awareness and national security preparedness. With so much investment done, and more underway, there can be little doubt about the value of these radar systems. There has long been a gap between these types of high-performance radars (called electronically scanned array, or ESA), which also have high acquisition and lifecycle costs, and radars suitable for use by a dismounted soldier. Special operations forces may employ small radars, but these tend to offer modest ground detection range (~750 m) and very poor detection of modern threats, like drones.
Radar is deployed to provide situational awareness over the horizon, far beyond human sensory capabilities. But there are always gaps in coverage caused by terrain and natural and man-made structures, as exploited in the Saudi Aramco attack. This macro example has micro companions, with gaps in coverage caused by buildings, alleys and similar obstacles that are visually constrained. The evolution in technology to solve the micro coverage gap appears to be the nano drone, which provides full spectral awareness of areas currently beyond reach. Small, lightweight, low power and easy to use, incorporating nano drones into the DSS has a path to proliferation that will revolutionize close quarters combat doctrine and TTPs.
The expression of an evolution in technology leading to a revolution in thought provides an important lens by which to consider contemporary radar for extending and enhancing situational awareness more broadly. Radar captures all movements and ESA radars are uniquely suited for surveillance in both ground and air domains. The hurdle to widespread ESA radar is practical and technological. ESA radars mechanically steer an electronic beam across the aperture and these moving parts are very expensive, operationally intensive, and require frequent maintenance – all obstacles to widespread use.
Technology does evolve, though. There is now a solid state ESA radars that is a commercial off the shelf (COTS) product, smaller and lighter than the foundational radar engineering textbook, and operates on a Bb-2590 for nearly 6 hours. Add a second battery and solar collector and the entire radar system, including cables, is less than 15 kg. Would it fit within the DSS profile?
Let’s consider in the context of key categories. Lethality? Provides both precise target coordinates and enhanced situational awareness of enemy assets operating on ground or in the air. Sustainment? It does add power requirements to mission planning. Mobility? The radar system itself is highly portable and setup/teardown in 10 minutes. Can operate remotely, via wireless connectivity, so can be placed and revisited. Survivability? It would enhance soldier survivability through heightened awareness, and the unit itself is both survivable and replaceable. Command Control? The radar system may have its greatest advantage for extending situational awareness in across ground and air domains. As an information source, nothing rivals radar’s range and precision. A truly human-portable, ultra-low SWaP ESA radar that integrates into existing systems and networks would fit the DSS well.
Information can be revolutionary. The value of high-fidelity ESA radar data deployed at the Squad level means there are fewer and fewer gaps in situational awareness coverage. More importantly, a sustained level of highly accurate/highly local data from attritable, dispersed COTS radars alter the dynamics of battlespace information. Heightened awareness leads to reduction in mission and soldier risk. Information is the advantage and radar for the DSS significantly extends that advantage.
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