What Is a Search Radar?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A search radar is a radar device that runs in a search configuration to identify targets of interest and report back with data on their characteristics and position to allow operators to determine if they merit further investigation. Radio detection and ranging technology was initially developed for military applications, but also has a number of civilian uses. Search radar can be fixed, mounted on movable equipment, or used in a handheld unit for short range products. The key characteristic of search radar is the broad scope of coverage. The cost of the system can vary depending on the functions and range offered.

A warship's search radar is usually mounted on its mast.
A warship's search radar is usually mounted on its mast.

With radar in search mode, the device emits radio waves across a wide area and performs frequent sweeps in settings where targets may be on the move. The wide range allows the device to identify even marginal targets. This contrasts with radar observations that may be performed with a narrower beam to investigate a specific target for data collection.

The key characteristic of search radar is the broad scope of coverage.
The key characteristic of search radar is the broad scope of coverage.

In aircraft, search radar can help avoid collisions as well as provide information on military targets. Military aircraft may use their own radar for targeting, or can feed data back to operators on the ground who can research targets and establish priority. Military ships also use this technology to identify potential threats, collect information, and decide what to do in response. Early warning radar technology can help personnel avoid sneak attacks or accidents.

The military is not the only entity with use for search radar. The search configuration can be used by geologists and other researchers to identify radar-sensitive targets of interest in the ground. One use for radar technology is in the exploration of archaeological sites, which often contain objects hidden under years of sediment and other materials. Flying over with a radar array can provide information about whether a site is worth investigating, and may help researchers generate a list of targets.

It is also possible to use search radar in missing persons cases, to look for signs of people or their belongings, like vehicles. In cases where a death is suspected, radar technology may help law enforcement officials find the site of a burial or attempted disposal. This requires specialized training to learn to read the equipment accurately and the budget may be limited, making it necessary to have a general area to start the search in. Widespread scans of an area in the hopes of finding information can be counterproductive and expensive.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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