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U.S. Radar Laden Weapons

May 28, 1987

Thomas Amlie's diatribe against radar (Editorial Pages, May 14), "Our Radar Laden Weapons Attract Their Own Doom," is just what we in the defense community need fewer of: A technocrat masking his zeal with a veneer of plausibility, which he believes will be accepted by an uninformed public.

Amlie is a well-known advocate of passive electro-optical systems in preference to radar systems. Instead of presenting a balanced view in which both radar and electro-optical systems have vital roles, he chooses to bad-mouth radar through exaggeration, innuendo, and inaccuracies.

Radar can do two things that a passive electro-optical system cannot: see through dense clouds, smoke, dust, and haze, and provide an instantaneous measurement of range to the target. Passive electro-optics systems, in addition to emitting no signals, gather information that is much more highly resolved than radar data, that is, make better images. The two technologies are complimentary!

In fact, seven of the eight airplane systems that Amlie mentions as being candidates for impotency already carry electro-optical systems, and the eighth one (the airborne warning and control system--AWACS) is to be operated out of harm's way. Furthermore, when he says that the major reason for the high cost of our airplanes is their radars, it means that he hasn't looked lately at the cost of LANTIRN--a complex and expensive system that is principally electro-optical.

Amlie's anti-radar arguments are presented in such a way as to seem powerful. Instead they are superficial, incomplete, or downright wrong. The trouble with "operating radars full time" is that they are "excellent targets for . . . ARMs (anti-radiation missiles)," says Amlie, neglecting to note that when they are operated sporadically or not at all they can confound those ARMs.

Radars have "distinctive signatures," and simple equipment can "classify" them, he says, failing to mention that modern radars, making use of spread spectrum pseudo-random noise signals, obscure their signatures and defy classification. These same techniques also make untenable his assertion that adjacent radars "must be tuned to different frequencies."

Did it occur to either Amlie or Rep. Les Aspin (D-Wis.), who said the B-1B jammers would be a "beacon," that these jammers would not be turned on unless the B-1B was under attack by radar-based systems? Terrain-following radars are identified as culprits, but falsely. When altitudes are only a few hundred feet, the amount of power terrain-following radars radiate can be made infinitesimal and the detection range harmlessly short. That there is no practical alternative to radar for measuring the distance to the ground from a low-flying plane in bad weather or at night is ignored.

Apparently Amlie is disaffected only by microwave radars; he evinces affection for Soviet radars at lower frequencies because of their "attributes" in detecting aircraft cheaply, not deigning to inform us that the physics of low frequencies makes them sensitive to jamming and inefficient in target location. That VHF television channels tend "to see over hills" will be news to those of us who get no TV reception because we live behind hills.

Radar has an esteemed background. It helped win the Battle of Britain, a crucial watershed in World War II. It has been improved by orders of magnitude since then and is now an integral part of our lives as well as our defenses. Statements of its impending demise by Amlie--or anyone else--are decidedly premature.



Toomay is a retired Air Force major general.

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