On the radar

Joseph Clarke, Assistant Editor at Security Buyer, delves into the use of radar technology in airports, highlighting their role in minimising threats and reducing false alarms

Airports, the gateways of our globalised world, are bustling hubs that pose intricate security challenges. The aviation industry continually seeks to enhance security measures with technology being the primary tool in combating threats. In this context, radar solutions emerge as a transformative and crucial layer in airport security. But what is it about radar technology that stands out, and how does it integrate with other security tools at airports? 

Airports present a distinctive security challenge. As the aviation industry hurtles towards an era marked by an increasing reliance on technology, radar systems, once exclusively tethered to navigation, have been earmarked for their potential to redefine airport security. Let’s journey through the transformative advancements in radar technologies and their applications in modern airport security infrastructure.  

From their genesis during the Second World War as tools for detection and navigation, radar systems have continually evolved. Their ability to detect objects at a distance, even under challenging conditions, has made them an invaluable asset. Over the past decade, as threats to airport security have become more varied and sophisticated, there has been a pivot towards leveraging radar’s capabilities to protect airport perimeters and manage airspace.  

With evolving threats in today’s dynamic world, traditional surveillance methods, although essential, often fall short in offering comprehensive protection. Enter radar technology — a solution that not only addresses the contemporary challenges of airport security but also paves the way for the future.  

From a technical standpoint, radar systems utilise electromagnetic waves to detect objects, movements, and disturbances over vast distances. Unlike visual-based surveillance methods which can be hindered by poor lighting or visual obstructions, radar remains unaffected, ensuring consistent and reliable detection. 

One of radar’s most significant technical advantages is its all-weather operational capability. Whether it’s fog, heavy rain, snow, or even dust storms, radar systems continue to function optimally, ensuring no security lapse due to environmental conditions — an essential feature given the unpredictable nature of weather in many global regions.

Given the expansive nature of airport premises, security solutions must cover vast perimeters. Radars can survey large swathes of land, providing real-time data on potential threats even before they approach critical zones. This ability to pre-emptively identify threats allows security personnel to act swiftly, mitigating potential risks. 

Modern radar systems often integrate with Artificial Intelligence (AI) and sophisticated analytics tools. This synergy allows for the differentiation between benign movements (like birds) and potential threats (such as drones). By reducing false alarms, it ensures security resources are utilised effectively and judiciously. 

Technically, radar systems are designed to seamlessly integrate with other security infrastructure components like CCTV, infrared cameras, and access control systems. Such integration offers a layered security approach, where each system complements the other, ensuring no security gaps. 

The real-time processing capability of radar systems ensures that threats are not just identified, but also tracked in real-time. This continuous monitoring is crucial for airports where threats need to be neutralised long before they reach sensitive zones. 

While the initial investment for radar technology might be considerable, the long-term benefits — reduced false alarms, lesser dependency on human intervention and decreased vulnerability to environmental factors — make it a cost-effective solution over time. 

As we progress into an era defined by technological innovation, the aviation industry needs to remain proactive rather than reactive. Traditional surveillance systems, while still valuable, must be augmented with advanced solutions like radar to address the evolving security landscape. 

Airports, being symbolic gateways, cannot afford lapses in security. The integration of radar technology represents more than just an upgrade; it symbolises a forward-thinking approach to safeguarding national and international interests. 

Moreover, as the line between cyber and physical threats becomes increasingly blurred, the potential for integrating radar’s real-time data with digital security systems opens up a new frontier in holistic airport security. 

Radar technology, with its technical prowess, is not merely an addition to the airport security toolkit; it is rapidly becoming its linchpin. As we envision the future of airport security, it’s clear that solutions will be characterised by their ability to predict and pre-empt threats. In this context, radar systems, complemented by AI and integrated with other security measures, will stand as the bedrock of a new era in airport security. So, what advancements and examples of applications demonstrate the full potential of radar in airport transportation? 

The Advancements 

High-Definition Scanning: Modern radar systems can produce high-definition scans, allowing for the precise identification of objects. This sharpness is essential, given the sprawling expanse of most airport premises.  

Artificial Intelligence (AI) Integration: Some radar systems now integrate AI to help differentiate between potential threats and benign movements. For instance, the distinction between a bird and a drone is crucial to eliminate false alarms and direct resources effectively. Expanding the scope of surveillance is crucial. Certain radar technologies can monitor both sides of a perimeter and even identify threats that loom beyond the physical boundaries.  

There are a number of radar specialists in the market including the likes of Raytheon, Saab, Echodyne, Thales, AdvancedGuard and so many more. Here is a brief overview of some of the different types of technologies in the market.   

Raytheon’s radar systems are renowned for their efficiency in tracking airborne objects. Airports such as London’s Heathrow employ Raytheon’s radar for bird detection – mitigating the risks of bird strikes which can lead to serious accidents.  

Lockheed Martin on the other hand, are known for their ground-based radars, such as the TPS-79, that are adept at identifying potential threats, be they human or vehicular, around airport perimeters. A case in point is Los Angeles International Airport, which utilises this technology to enhance its perimeter security.  

Saab, a Swedish company, is at the forefront of utilising radar technology for air traffic management. Their systems, adopted by airports like Hong Kong International, ensure safe and efficient flight operations.  

Thales Group have radar systems that are part of a multi-layered security approach at numerous global airports. The Changi Airport in Singapore is a fine example, leveraging Thales’s technology to maintain its reputation as one of the safest in the world.  

Schiphol Airport  

Schiphol Airport, one of Europe’s busiest, has recently enhanced its security infrastructure by incorporating advanced radar technologies. The airport’s system now combines traditional video surveillance with radar detection, offering a comprehensive overview of the entire airport grounds.  

A highlight is its use of AI-integrated radar technology to detect and analyse unusual patterns, such as erratic drone movements or unauthorised human presence near runways. By reducing the number of false alarms, the system ensures that security personnel can focus on genuine threats, streamlining operations and enhancing overall airport safety.  

Furthermore, Schiphol’s integration of its radar data with other security measures, such as CCTV and access control systems, offers an illustration of the future of airport security — interconnected, intelligent, and pre-emptive.

Shannon Airport 

Situated in Ireland, Shannon Airport presents a complex security puzzle. Catering to both passenger and military aircraft and housing engineering works, it stands as one of Ireland’s busiest. The additional challenge is its usage by the US military, making it a focal point for protestors. 

John Francis, the Chief Security Officer at Shannon Airport, took on the responsibility of identifying a security solution to meet the airport’s intricate needs. In conversation with Simonas Mikuzis, Navtech Radar’s Security Segment Leader, John highlighted how the airport had previously scoured the market for perimeter surveillance options. Still, they fell short until they chanced upon Navtech’s wide-area radar solution. 

Navtech’s system offers real-time data, site-wide surveillance and, crucially, longevity. Built with adaptability in mind, it can incorporate new technologies, allowing for integration with access control, video surveillance, and more, matching the airport’s evolving needs.

John’s association with AdvanceGuard showcased how the system outperforms others. One key aspect is the early detection of potential threats beyond the perimeter, a functionality hard to come by in the market. Set up to monitor not only the airport grounds but an additional 10 meters beyond the perimeter using merely three radars, AdvanceGuard has continued to expand its capabilities. A recent addition includes the integration of ADS-B to monitor aircraft movement. 

But every technology has its set of challenges. For airport security systems, the recurring concern is false alarms, typically set off by wandering animals. Here again, AdvanceGuard shines. Using its rules-based software, it efficiently manages these alarms, maintaining a small number for a system’s ‘proof of life’. 

John’s feedback underlines the system’s excellence: “The Navtech system is integrated with our CCTV, enabling us to resolve alarms remotely swiftly. AdvanceGuard potentially becomes the dashboard for an airport’s security operation. Beyond its primary function, it tracks movements during a security breach, identifies movement around the airport with the ‘friend or foe’ feature, and monitors aircraft movement with the ADS-B. Another layer we’re looking to explore is drone detection and tracking.” 

Complementary Technologies 

While radar solutions are game-changing, they are one piece of a larger puzzle. Airports, including Shannon, use these solutions in tandem with other technologies, such as access control systems, video surveillance, and more, crafting a robust, multi-layered security infrastructure. 

In the words of John: “Securing the perimeter is not just about protection but also verifying and effectively addressing breaches. Beyond the fence, we want advance notice of potential breaches. Navtech offers an early warning system, setting it apart from other perimeter-only protection systems. 

“One of our biggest problems was nuisance alarms – we want to know that if we do have a breach, we can verify it very quickly. The Navtech system is integrated with our CCTV system, so it gives us the ability to resolve alarms remotely very quickly and very efficiently. The nearest camera will respond to that alarm and will highlight the type of alarm – which means that you’re not spending an awful lot of time rushing around dealing with false alarms.” 

John added: “Beyond the fence, we want to see or have as much advance notice as possible that we may have a potential breach. Occasionally, for example, animals come up beside the perimeter. The Navtech system gives us the ability to see what’s approaching the perimeter, providing an early warning system for our patrols. 

“An additional layer of the system is drone detection and tracking, which is a feature that we will try here in the not-too-distant future. It even has the ability to track flocks of birds. It gives us advance warning of a wide range of hazards that can affect the operation of the airport.” 

Discussing what sets AdvanceGuard apart from other available solutions, John said: “There are many perimeter protection products, but AdvanceGuard gives you the additional functionality and ability to see what’s going on before a breach, which you don’t get with perimeter-protection-only systems.” 

As Simonas Mikuzis, the Security Segment Leader at Navtech Radar, liaised with Shannon Airport, it became evident how pivotal the integration of radar technology is in modern airport security. The future of airport safety lies in adopting solutions that not only detect and deter threats but do so proactively, ensuring safety without causing operational disruptions. Radar solutions, combined with other security measures, pave the way for a safer, more efficient aviation industry. 

While the advancements in radar technologies are impressive, the real impact lies in their integration within broader security frameworks. Airports that adapt and adopt these innovations will not only be equipped to tackle contemporary threats but also be future-ready. 

As we gaze into the horizon, it’s evident that radar technology, bolstered by AI and machine learning, will become even more central to airport security strategies. It’s not just about detecting threats but predicting them — and in the high-stakes world of airport security, being one step ahead makes all the difference. 

Radar technologies, with their rich history and promising innovations, hold the key to reimagining airport security in the 21st century. As we usher in a new era marked by increasing complexities in global travel, these systems, when integrated effectively, will stand as our most potent tool in safeguarding the portals to our skies. 

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