Coastal and port monitoring is a vital component of national security. Torben Nielsen of Terma speaks to Defence & Systems Security International about current radar technology and the big impact it is having.
As recent events have sadly reminded us, the environment of heightened tension and in security is here for the foreseeable future. In light of this, the need to monitor traffic in our skies and seas is of the utmost importance.
Terma, a Danish company with more than seven decades' experience in the aerospace, defence and security sectors, started building navigation radars in 1951. In the mid-1980s, it saw a gap in the market for radars that could be used for vessel traffic services (VTS) and coastal surveillance (CS). It filled this gap with what became the SCANTER 2001. Having demonstrated its worth on naval vessels, the sophisticated capabilities and superior durability of the SCANTER radars made an immediate impact.
"We visited South America a couple of years ago," recalls Torben Nielsen, the company's manager for VTS and CSS radars - South America, India and Africa. "We found early SCANTER radars still in operation; our product was still able to operate even though it was coming close to 20 years old."
The SCANTER 2001 has since been replaced by the more sophisticated SCANTER 5000 and 6000 models, while its manufacturer has cemented its position as a global player. Today, Terma's portfolio of radar systems offers real-time awareness to the highest degree of accuracy, giving peace of mind to coastguards and port operators: these systems are adaptive, meaning they are continually responding to changes in the environment, even subtle ones. Unless conditions really are extreme - the worst possible weather or multiple obstructions near the antennae - they can function without operator adjustments.
"This year, we made a radar demonstration in Brazil where there were a large number of radar objects: helicopters, sailing boats, jet skis, kayaks, swimmers and even airliners," explains Nielsen. "We were able to detect and track all of them perfectly throughout the time there. One day, two large clouds came in bringing a lot of wind and rain, and we could see that the rain was making grey clusters in the radar picture. But within a few seconds, the radar automatically suppressed this pattern and it again gave a completely clear picture."
It's remarkable how long many of Terma's systems have continued to function, hardly touched by tools. They have a modular design, so if things do go wrong, maintenance is easy and cost-effective; the defective module can be isolated and removed without upsetting other components. The radar technician merely replaces the module, sends the defective part back to Terma and soon receives a replacement in the post. The fact that they are built in the same factory and by the same technicians as Terma's military products also gives them a ruggedness that many civil radar systems lack.
"We see very low failure rates in our modules," Nielsen explains. "For example, we have what technically is referred to as a graceful degradation design in our transmitter.
"This transmitter is a big amplifier that consists of a number of small amplifiers working together. If one of those suffers a defect, then the remaining amplifiers will continue to maintain operation while sending back vital information about the defect in the transmitter module. I would say, even with the very low rate of issues that we have with our radar, the maintenance plan is sufficient to reduce surprises to close to zero."
The versatility of the company's radar offering has seen it enter new markets in the past couple of years. For example, increasingly, Terma is seeing its systems deployed to monitor wind farms, as the SCANTER range is able to give an accurate picture without experiencing blade interference. It has also introduced the Scanter 2200, a more compact and price-competitive radar for customers in need of high resolution in a limited area or medium resolution in a large area.
"We are serving the radar business as part of the Terma company, which might not be big in a worldwide context but is big enough for us to have the resources to go out into new areas of the world," Nielsen says. "We have a very high focus on making life easy for the customer."