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Basic radar parameters

Frequency bands

Marine radar operating frequencies are allocated within the following bands of frequencies:

The S band from 2000 to 4000 MHz

The X band from 8000 to 12500 MHz

These correspond to a range of wavelengths of:

S band 7.5 cm to 15 cm – 10 cm Radar

X band 2.4 cm to 3.75 cm. – 3 cm Radar

The International Telecommunications Union allocates the two bands. 

For example, a vessel might transmit on:

9445 ± 35 MHz in the X band and

3050 ± 10 MHz in the S band. 

Use of these high frequencies has an added advantage of reducing the size and thus weight of the antennas. 

Three-centimetre radar is used for relatively high-bearing definition and good echo return.

In the atmosphere gas molecules absorb some energy, but three-centimetre waves can experience severe attenuation and reflection in rain and dense fog. 

Wavelengths of ten centimetres are less affected by rain, fog and snow and also permit returns from large targets beyond the normal radar horizon of the shorter wavelength. 

Choice of PRF is influenced by several design factors. Successive pulses must be separated by a period of time which permits the echo from a transmitted pulse to return and be displayed before the onset of the next transmitter pulse. 

Therefore, the PRP must have a length that is equal to twice the one-way trip time from antenna to target. 

Practically the PRP is greater than the calculated minimum. 

Values are between about 500 PPS to 4000 PPS and a radar will have two or three PRFs giving a choice of PRP to suit the ranging conditions. 

Additionally, the pulse length will be switched to suit those conditions.

The following values of pulse length and PRF’s are automatically selected when the radar range is changed. Also the facility exists for manually changing the pulse length from short to long and vice versa. Selecting a longer pulse instead of a shorter one will always downgrade range resolution.

Radar 1

            Range               ¼         ¾         1.5       3          6          12        24        60



            length (μs)        0.05     0.05     0.05     0.05     1.0       1.0       1.0       1.0

            PRF                 3200    3200    3200    3200    800      800      800      800

Radar 2

            Range               ¼         11/2       3          6          12        24        48        64



            length (μs)        0.06     0.06     0.06     0.5       0.5       1.0       1.0       1.0

            PRF                 3600    3600    3600    1800    1800    900      900      900

Relating PRF and pulse length:

          Range                   PRF            pulse length                   PRF       pulse length

          (N.M.)                                     (Short)                            (Long)

          0.25       2000      0.05            2000           0.05            only 1 PRF – 1 pulse length

          0.5         2000      0.05            1000           0.25            2 PRF – 2 pulse length

          0.75       2000      0.05            1000           0.25            2 PRF – 2 pulse length

          1.5         2000      0.05            1000           0.25            2 PRF – 2 pulse length

          3.0         1000      0.25            500             1.0              2 PRF – 2 pulse length

          6.0         1000      0.25            500             1.0              2 PRF – 2 pulse length

          12          1000      0.25            500             1.0              2 PRF – 2 pulse length

          24          500        1.0              500             1.0              only 1 PRF – 1 pulse length

          48          500        1.0              500             1.0              only 1 PRF – 1 pulse length

Comparison between X- band and S- band:

Target Response:          For a target of a given size, the response at X – band is greater than at S – band.

Bearing discrimination:  For a given aerial width the horizontal beamwidth effect in an S – band system will be approx. 3.3 times that of an X – band system.

Vertical Beam structure:            The vertical lobe pattern produced by an S – band aerial is about 3.3 times as coarse as that from an X – band aerial located at the same heights.

Radar Horizon:             The radar horizon with S – band is slightly more distant than with X – band.

Sea clutter response:     The unwanted response from sea waves is less at S – band than at X – band, thus the probability of targets being masked due to saturation is less.

Precipitation response:  The probability of detection of targets, which lie within an area of precipitation, is higher with S – band transmission than with X – band transmission.

Attenuation in precipitation:       In any given set of precipitation conditions, S – band transmissions will suffer less attenuation than those at X – band.

Selection of PRF and pulselength and their relationship with Range scale.

For any range scale the period between two pulses should be at least as long as the time base for that range scale. This because the trace spot should be able to go up to the edge of the screen and then return to the centre – thereby tracing a single echo line.

If however the time between the two pulses (pulse repetition period or p.r.p.) is equal to the time base then the problem would be to resolve any echoes, generated by the first pulse but outside the range scale in use arriving in the time base of the second pulse (second trace echoes).

Therefore a time delay (receiver rest time) must be introduced between the completion of one time base and the commencement of the second time base – so that the above confusion is reduced as much as possible.

Thus the combined length of the time base and the period of rest of the receiver must be long enough so that echoes due to any given pulse are all returned before the transmission of the second pulse.

The above thus defines the minimum acceptable pulse repetition period (p.r.p.) and thus the maximum PRF for any given range scale.

The next criteria is to assess how far a pulse would go, since that would determine the time duration delay that we have to allow for the echo to come back.

The range of this EM wave is among others dependent on the transmitted pulse length. Longer the pulse length the more distant the pulse would travel and thus the echo from the furthest point would take an appreciable time.

This would entail a longer pulse repletion period and consequently a lower PRF.

Thus we see that long pulses are used on the longer-range scales and are associated with low PRF. The short pulses are used on the shorter-range scales and are associated with high PRF.

It should be remembered that selection of a short pulse would reduce the probability of detection of any one return. However this is compensated with the fact that when on short pulse mode, the PRF is higher so more shots are being fired at the target.

The Radar Horizon:

Although the Radar transmitter emits EM waves and that these waves are supposed to move in straight lines (line of sight), it does so happen that the radar waves are bent slightly downward due to the atmospheric conditions.

Therefore the radar horizon is given by the equation:

Distance in NM = 2.21 x square root of Height of Own antenna in metres

To get a return from a target the target is supposed to be above the sea level, and then the detectable range using the above equation would be as follows:

Distance in NM = 2.21 x square root of Height of Own antenna in metres + 2.21 x square root of Height of target in metres

Thus if we take that a target is of a height of 1 m above the sea, and that our antenna is placed at a height of 25 m above the sea, then from the above it follows:

Detectable range of target = (2.21 √01) + (2.21 √25)              

            = (2.21 x 1) + (2.21 x 5)

            = 2.21 + 11.05

            = 13.26 NM


Of course the above is purely theoretical since the echo to be received by the radar would depend on a number of causes:

Standard atmospheric conditions

Pulses are powerful enough

The target has a good reflector surface and would return the echoes

The water vapour/ rain in the atmosphere does not attenuate the pulse on its journey to and from the target.


When we talk of standard atmospheric conditions, it is taken to be as follows:

Pressure: 1013mb and decreasing at 36mb/1000ft height

Temperature: 15°C decreasing at 2°C/1000ft height

Relative humidity: 60%

The above conditions give a refractive index (RI) of 1.00325 decreasing at 0.00013 / 1000ft of height.

Second Trace Echoes

If the PRF is too high then a target echo may be displayed on the time base of the next pulse.


1 μs = 300 metres

or 1 nm = 12.35 μs as displayed in the CRT


In the above, pulse 1 has enough energy to return a echo from targets A and B. 

The selected maximum range is 48 nm, producing a timebase sweep of 12.35 x 48 = 595.0 μs. 

Target A, returns an echo 446.0 μs after timebase waveform initialization, indicating that the target lies at 36 nm range on the first transmission trace. 

A PRF of 1500 pps is chosen giving a PRP of 666 μs.

1 second = 1500 pulse’s

1000,000 μs = 1500 pulse’s

PRP = 1000,000 / 1500

PRP = 666.67 μs

Target B returns its echo due to pulse 1 after 800 μs and is due to the target lying at range 64 nm. The echo due to target B therefore returns 134 μs after the start of the timebase trace due to pulse 2.

The paint due to echo B then appears on timebase trace 2, producing an ambiguous echo at an apparent range of 11 nm.  All unambiguous echoes will, of course, be displayed at normal ranges.

On board ship’s it may be possible for second trace echoes to be displayed only when the pulse transmitted has sufficient energy to cause a echo to return from a large target area such as a land mass beyond the visible horizon but within the radar horizon.

Or sometimes due to a phenomenon known as super refraction.

A displayed coastal outline may be shown near the central area of the CRT screen, and the navigator should be suspicious of such unexpected targets and aware of the possibility of super refraction in the atmosphere.

Changing PRF, done by just changing to a lower range can eliminate second trace echoes.

Since Radars have at least two PRF’s, these second trace echoes thus pose no hazard if understood by the navigator.

Minimum detectable range

RF radiation for 1.0 μs pulse duration will occupy a length in air of 300m. 

During the transmission of the 1 μs pulse the receiver is switched off by T/R cell. 

The forward edge of this pulse is at A and the after edge is at B. As soon as the transmission stops the after edge B, of the pulse has just left the antenna. The T/R cell switches on the Receiver circuit.

However, during that 1.0 μs of transmission there may be a target, at for example 100m range, returning an echo. 

Since the pulse length is 1 μs (=300m), therefore the forward edge of the transmitted pulse traveled 100m to the target and the echo so generated again traveled 100m back to the scanner, total distance traveled 200m. This is less than the pulse length of 300m (1 μs), so the T/R cell does not open the receiver circuit for the echo to be processed and displayed.

But if the target is at a distance of 150m, and the forward edge of the pulse hits it, and there is an echo then this echo will be received. This will be so, because now the forward edge of the pulse traveled 150m, generated an echo of the target which traveled another 150m back to the scanner, a total of 300m (1 μs).

Thus, 150m is the minimum range at which a target is detectable and the value of that minimum range depends on the pulse length. 

In reality however the Radar manual states more distance (nearly double).

If a Radar has a minimum pulse length of 0.05 μs for the lower ranges then the minimum theoretical range is given by 0.05 x 300/2 = 7.5m.

As the Radar set becomes old the efficiency of the T/R cell goes down and the minimum detectable range increases from that stated in the manual.

Radar’s operating under short pulse will have a better minimum detectable range.

Range discrimination

Range discrimination means the ability of a radar to detect two or more targets lying close together on the same bearing and at differing ranges and display those targets as separate echoes. 

In the following figure there are two targets A and B, each on the same bearing and separated by 150m range. The transmitted pulse length is 1.0.

In this case also it is nearly the same as the minimum detection range.

If the pulse length is more then the minimum distance between two targets for each to be shown separately, the pulse length has to be less than the minimum range discrimination stated.

It is seen that range discrimination will be degraded as pulse length increases. 

In a set having three pulse lengths of 0.06 Rs, 0.5 Rs and 1.0 Rs, the range discrimination cannot be better than 9m, 75m and 150m respectively.

Range Discrimination:

Range discrimination means the ability of the radar to differentiate between two targets at the same bearing but separated by a minimum distance.

The discrimination is usually expressed in metres, which must separate the two targets as mentioned above so that they may be observed separately.

IMO performance standard for radar specifies condition for two targets, on the same bearing but separated by 50 metres in range.

The specification states that on a range of 2 NM or less be capable of displaying the echoes of the two targets as separate targets when the two lie at a range of between 50% and 100% of the range scale in use.

In general half the pulse length can be said to be theoretically the distance between the two targets required to paint them separately. However another factor comes into play is the spot size of the paint.

A sheet of metal of unit width will also send in an echo and that will be painted on the screen with a certain predetermined dimension. This dimension will again change with the range scale in use.

To understand this note that a point of 0.5mm of the screen will be of different dimensions (in NM) depending on the range scale in use.

The range of each spot is a function of the range scale in use as well as the spot diameter per radius.


Number of Spot Diameter per screen radius (250mm diameter screen) = Radius of the screen (125) / each spot diameter

Thus the range as represented by each spot would then be found using the range scale used.

Range = Range scale in metres / spot diameters per radius

Thus as an example for a Radar screen of 250 mm and with a spot diameter of 0.5mm and at ranges of 12 NM and at 48 NM the spot would represent as follows:

Number of spot diameters per screen radius = 125 / 0.5 = 250

Range = (12 x 1852) / 250 = 88.9 metres                                             12 NM

Range = (48 x 1852) / 250 = 355.6 metres                                           48 NM

Now noting the above we see that the minimum separation between the targets would not be exactly half the pulse length but this spot radius factor as well. However the spot radius would be different for different makes of radar.

Thus to some practical value to range discrimination:

Range discrimination = Range (spot) + Range (pulse)

If we take our above example at 48 NM and use a pulse length of 1μs, then

Range discrimination = 355.6 + 150 = 505.6 metres.

Bearing discrimination:

Bearing discrimination means that ability of the radar to differentiate between two targets on the same range and separated by a minimum angular distance.

Shows two targets X and Y lying at range R metres. 

This shows the antenna beam in just one direction, assuming that the antenna is not rotating. It is seen that when the angle (φ) subtended by the two targets at the antenna is less than the horizontal beamwidth (θ), the two targets will be hit simultaneously by the pulse and they will appear as one displayed target. 

This is generally expressed in metres as that distance by which two targets lying on the same range  are painted separately.

The IMO performance standard sets the specification that when two targets on the same range of between 50% and 100% of the 1.5 NM or 2 NM range scales, the two targets should be able to be displayed separately by not more than 2.5° in azimuth (bearing).

Thus to comply with the above the trailing edge (horizontal) of the rotating beam must leave one target before the leading edge of the rotating beam strikes the second target.

Theoretically the Horizontal Beam Width (HBW) would be the determining factor, such that the bearing discrimination would be at least one HBW.

However again due to the spot diameter of the screen resolution, in practice the minimum distance is more.

Also this discrimination would be different at different ranges since though the HBW angle would subtend the same angle the arc in NM would be different.

Let us look at an example:

Screen diameter: 250 mm, spot size: 0.5 mm, HBW: 1.5°, Range scale in use: 12 NM, Target at range of: 10 NM

Length of the arc at 10 NM:

= range x HBW in radians

= (10 x 1852) x 1.5 x (π / 180) metres

= 485.05 metres

Now the arc represented by one spot diameter is given by:

= range scale in metres / spot diameters per radius

= 12 x (1852 / 250)

= 88.9 metres

Thus Bearing discrimination = 485 + 89 = 574 metres

For the same example but the targets lying at a range of 1 NM would be:

Length of arc = 48.5 metres

Arc by spot diameter = 88.9 metres

Thus Bearing discrimination = 48.5 + 89 = 138.5 metres
Target glint

Statistics show that of the 25 pulses reaching the target approximately 10-15 detectable pulses may return. 

Successive pulse transmissions will, however, build up a bright area of paint on the display, which appears at the range of the centre of echo returns.

Due to rolling and pitching of own/target vessel the aspect of the target may change, this will change the echo signals polarization as well as the strength.

The above will lead to the target appearing in one scan and not appearing in some scans. This is known as target glint. Further this also leads to ‘Lost Target’ when the target is acquired by the ARPA.

Summing up:

In order to produce a good signal return from a distant target the energy in the transmitted pulse should be high.  For a given peak power this suggests long pulse duration. 

However, lengthening the pulse will degrade range discrimination.

Having a short pulse length ensures good minimum detectable range.

At longer displayed ranges, where range discrimination is not so critical, the pulse energy is increased by choosing a longer transmitted pulse. 

The PRF and the pulse length determine the average transmitter power for a given peak output power.  Also, the PRF determines the maximum displayed range and is preferably chosen so that second trace effect is avoided. 

Evidently reducing the antenna speed for a given PRF will provide more paints per target; it is not feasible to increase antenna horizontal beamwidth since this would reduce antenna gain and degrade bearing discrimination. 

The PRF and pulse widths are generally made variable being switched to a desired value when the operator of the equipment changes the displayed range.

Super and sub-refraction

The atmosphere is not of uniform density throughout its height above the earth. Also the density of the atmosphere changes during the day as well as during summer and winter.

Early morning the sun appears red while rising due to the above fact that the light from the sun has under gone refraction. This phenomenon of bending of light rays is also applicable to other electro-magnetic waves including radar beams.

Refraction causes the ‘radar horizon’ to appear at a distance greater than if the radar waves travelled in a straight line.

Radar waves are affected by above discrepancy in the density and also due to the amount of water vapour in the atmosphere.

Extended ranges are caused by propagation through a ‘nonstandard’ atmosphere and are generally caused by a ducting phenomenon.  Microwaves do propagate beyond the normal horizon due to earth diffraction but this is a consistent propagation factor for which an allowance is made in the application of the earth radius factor. 

Super Refraction:

This occurs when the rate of decrease in refractive index with height is greater than under standard conditions.

When super refraction occurs the RADAR’s beam tends to be bent down slightly more and so targets may be detected at greater ranges.

Conditions which are favourable would be:

A decrease in relative humidity with height.

Temperature falling more slowly than standard or even increasing with height.

These conditions are generally found in very good weather/ visibility conditions. Especially in conditions of high pressure weather systems.

Thus we would have – a cool sea – and a hot dry wind blowing, reducing the relative humidity and inverting the temperature inversion from standard conditions.

Atmospheric ducts are caused by rapid decrease of refractive index with altitude which can itself occur due to an increase in temperature and/or a decrease in humidity. 

The refractive Index changes at a rate of about 4 times the standard rate.

It is the latter humidity gradients, which are recorded as producing the most pronounced changes in refractive index.  Enhanced propagation can occur by ducting if the radar antenna or the target is near the water, which places the radar antenna and the target within the duct. 

When evaporation occurs from the sea into a still atmosphere a layer of moist air is produced, extending perhaps 50 to 100 feet and having a vapour content which decreases rapidly with height.  The condition causes partial trapping of radar energy and is further accentuated if there exists at the same time a temperature inversion, i.e. temperature reduces less rapidly with increase of height. 

Such conditions can cause radar energy to reach and be returned from targets many times the normal radar horizon and is known as super-refraction. 

Echo returns are generally from targets having a large radar reflecting area such as high landmasses.  Due to their extended detection range such echoes return on the next consecutive PPI trace causing second trace effect. In general warm dry air settling over a relatively cold sea produces conditions ideal for super-refraction.



This would occur when the refractive index of the atmosphere decreases less rapidly with height than under standard conditions.

Occurs where there is a very rapid reduction of temperature with height and/or increase in humidity with height. 

These conditions can arise when a very cold air layer settles over a relatively warmer sea. 

For conditions to arise formation of a cold front in northern latitudes is often a cause. So this condition would arise when there would a requireent for better radar capabilities and visibility is poor (cold front).

The phenomenon of inferior mirage is almost the same, when the air of differing densities refracts the visible light.

Generally experienced in or toward the Polar Regions. 

Radar ranges are reduced to visual eye sight distances or in some cases are reduced below this distance also, wherein sometimes targets being visible to the eye and the Radar has no echo on the display.  

Large masses of ice drifting in relatively warm sea currents can produce identical conditions for occurrence of sub-refraction.

Squint angle

Slight non-uniformity’s in emission along the slotted wave-guide introduce a shifting of the main beam axis so that it is not truly perpendicular to the length of the antenna.  The small angle so produced in the horizontal plane is called the squint angle.

Magnetrons are manufactured tuned to a nominal frequency within the radar band.  Slight changes in the transmission frequency which can, for example, occur when a magnetron is replaced, can alter the squint angle of a slotted waveguide antenna. 

Speed error

Given that log input may contain some speed error the true motion unit must operate on that input to produce a scaled motion of the trace origin having an error not exceeding 5 per cent or 0.25 knot, whichever is greater. 

In the case of a speed of 20 knots the maximum error permitted becomes one knot which proportionately diminishes with reduced speed. 

In digital form the speed is allocated to a single byte (eight binary digits).  This gives a resolution of 1/256 or, at 20 knots, 0.078 knots error. 


Course error; drift error

For type-tested systems, the course error generated by the true motion unit (TMU) circuitry must not exceed 3 degrees. 

A typical analogue true-motion unit specification will quite likely quote zero speed drift in terms of the observed scan origin motion when there is zero speed input. 

As an example, it might be that drift will occur over not more than 5 per cent of one quarter of the tube diameter during a 30-minute period or 0.25 knots, whichever is the greater. 

For a 406-mm display this amounts to 5.0 mm. 

On the 24-nm range the drift becomes equivalent to 1.2 knots, a drift of 0.6 nm in 30 minutes. 

On the 1/4nm range the same distance represents 0.00625 nm or 0.0125 knots.  

If the 0.25-knot tolerance is applied to this shorter range the drift could be as great as one half the radius in one half-hour period.

Drift can be minimized by careful adjustment of parameters, but over a long period the integrator will drift to saturation.  On a true motion PPI the effect is to introduce apparent scan origin motion where none should exist.  Since the integrator is usually reset at frequent intervals on short ranges, this action discharges the capacitor to produce zero integrator output voltage.  The problem is not then crucial.  Over longer tracking periods a track error will result due to drift which, being on the longer ranges, is seen from the previous example not to be critical for the observed errors.

Shadow sectors and blind sectors

Any part of the ship’s structure, which forms an obstruction to the main beam of the radar antenna, can cause a shadow sector or shadow zone on the PPI. 

However it should not be forgotten, particularly in larger vessels that extended shadow sectors exist in the vertical plane also.

Typically there is a core of at the shadow sector within which there exists a total blind sector.

False echoes (due to ship obstruction)


False echoes can appear on the display due to reflection of echo energy from an obstruction on the ship, which is causing a shadow sector. 

Usually such false echoes are found mainly in the shadow sector and appear at virtually the same range as the true target echo.  They may also appear at slightly reduced brilliance in radar sets, which display raw video signals. 

Generally the echoes are produced by fairly large echoing areas at close range; a change in course of own-ship causing the false echo to disappear or a new false echo from a different target to appear in the blind sector.

False echoes between own-ship and target

Such echoes are produced due to the transmitted energy bouncing between a target at close range and own-ship. 

The effect is to produce from one transmitted pulse a series of echoes which appear on the display equally spaced at multiples of the target range and extending beyond the true target echo with gradually diminishing paint.

False echoes appear on the same bearing as the true echo and are usually easily due to their regular pattern and distinctive characteristic.  As own-ship changes attitude relative to these targets the echoes tend to change or disappear.

Sidelobe echoes

Slotted waveguide antennas produce very low output power in the sidelobes compared to the main lobe.  For targets, which are close to own-ship, however, the energy can be transmitted and received not only via the main lobe but also via the sidelobes. 

The effect is to severely downgrade bearing discrimination of adjacent targets and to produce on the display bright arcs of paint at the target range and close to the scan origin. 

Sidelobe echoes diminish rapidly with range.