The Rise of Radar-Based UAV Detection For Military: A Game-Changer in Modern Warfare

Modern military drones slip past RF sniffers and traditional perimeter security sensors, but can't hide from radar.
March 20, 2024 by
Spotter Global, Jamie Mortensen

The breadth of military drone use just keeps growing. 

In addition to precision strikes, surveillance, reconnaissance, and supply drops, recent news has revealed larger UAVs being used to airlift wounded warfighters, engage in drone-on-drone dogfighting, and support morale and/or propaganda efforts. If reports are to be believed, there may even be a future of swarms of UAV drones assigned to follow and support manned aircraft on missions. 

As drones continue filling the air above and around active military zones, the ability to quickly detect and identify friendly vs non-friendly drones is becoming vital to military personnel and especially to those charged with defending critical infrastructure sites. 

In addition to detecting and identifying approaching drones, UAV detection methods must cover unprecedented amounts of air space compared to traditional perimeter security sensors, keep false and nuisance alarms to a minimum, and coordinate well with UAV mitigation methods. The potential mobility of UAV detection of mitigation methods is also of great interest as military zones are often geographically fluid and drones are very adaptable to these changes.

Among various traditional perimeter security and UAV detection methods, radar-based UAV detection holds the greatest potential to meet the listed military needs. Spotter Global’s AX250 3D Dome model, for example, has been developed to cover maximum airspace and filter nuisance alarms. See the datasheet for Spotter’s AX250 3D Radar System.  

A review of radar-based UAV detection for military purposes will be given below. 

Key Takeaways

  • UAV detection for the military is a rapidly evolving, high-priority topic in current military campaigns. 
  • Traditional UAV detection methods have limitations that leave “dark” drones and other stealth-prioritizing UAVs invisible.
  • Radar-based detection overcomes the limitations of traditional UAV detection methods by using radio waves to detect and track UAVs.
  • Successful radar-based UAV detection systems have been implemented in various military contexts.
  • The future of radar-based UAV detection holds promise for improving national security, protecting critical infrastructure, and supporting mobile modern warfare.

The Growing Threat of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs)

UAVs are now a fixture of warfare. The only questions remaining are, firstly, just how far UAV-related technology will reach in coming years to aid in tactical, operational, and broader strategic aims and secondly, who, among the many world powers, will gain and maintain overmatch capacity in this relatively new domain. 

For reference in understanding the growth of the UAV threat in recent years; the United States alone conducted approximately 14,000 drone strikes between 2015 and 2020. Just three years later, a 2023 report from the Royal United Services Institute estimated that Ukraine is burning through about 10,000 drones a month in the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict. 

The advantages offered by these unmanned aircraft include their cost-effectiveness, ease of use, versatility, speed, payload capacity, and of course, their evasive capacity. Given these UAV advantages, nations around the world are investing heavily in developing their own UAV capabilities, including not just UAV capabilities but also UAV detection and mitigation systems to help them counter UAV threats that may come from enemies without or within their national borders. 

Fortune Business Insights expects the global military drone market size to more than double within the next decade. And some nations, such as the United States, are already utilizing drones extensively in their counterterrorism efforts. 

Limitations of Traditional UAV Detection Methods

The steep rise of the UAV threat was so unanticipated that detection and mitigation are scrambling to catch up. 

Traditional perimeter security technologies, even those that would seem to be better suited to detecting airborne threats such as visual detection and acoustic sensors, have proven to be inadequate to match the stealth and evasive capacity of drones. Even some standard UAV-focused detection methods, such as RDF or “RF sniffers” are ineffective against many different types of drones.

Visual detection methods for UAV detection rely on a clear line of sight. Such systems often rely on human operators, who struggle to quickly identify incoming UAVs in their line of sight due to the UAVs speed and small size. Even when paired with the quicker, sharper eyes of AI, visual detection systems will often fail to reliably detect UAVs approaching at night, approaching through obscuring environmental conditions such as fog or snow, or coming in at high altitudes.

Acoustic sensors detect drones based on the noise they produce, but this method is limited by the frequent abundance of noise clutter in military zones and the fact that some drones are designed to operate silently.

RF sniffers, tuned in to the invisible radio frequencies (RF) of drones, may easily identify drones that give off radio signatures. However, the incorporation of autonomous inertial navigation systems, the use of “fly-by-wire” using fiber optic spools, preset flight paths, and other stealth methods allow non-RF-emitting or “dark” drones to avoid detection by RF sniffers.

How Radar-Based Detection Works




A system that uses radio waves to detect and locate objects.


Emits radio waves that travel through the air.


Detects the radio waves that bounce back from objects.


An object that reflects radio waves back to the radar.


The distance between the radar and the target.


The angle between the radar and the target, measured in degrees.


The angle between the radar and the target, measured in degrees.

Doppler Effect

The change in frequency of radio waves caused by the motion of the target.

Signal Processing

The analysis of the radio waves to extract information about the target.

Radar-based UAV detection offers several promising features to overcome the limitations of traditional perimeter security methods and RF sniffers. 

Radar technology detects and tracks objects in the airspace by use of radio waves. More precisely, the radar emits radio waves which, bouncing off objects in their path, return to the radar receiver. By analyzing the time it takes for the waves to return and their frequency shift, radar systems can determine the distance, speed, and direction of detected objects in the surrounding airspace. 

This use of radio waves allows radar technology to monitor wide coverage areas for physical matter which ensures more reliable detection than relying on the reception of potentially deceptive, muted, or non-present visual cues, sounds, or radio frequencies. Additionally, as radio waves do not rely on the frequencies belonging to the visual spectrum, radar-based security systems can detect UAV presences through darkness, fog, dust, rain, or any other environmental obscurant. 

Advantages of Radar-Based UAV Detection

Compared to traditional methods, radar-based detection offers several advantages. Firstly, as has been mentioned, radar systems can detect UAVs even in low visibility conditions, such as fog or darkness, making them highly reliable in various operating environments

Secondly, even when the airspace is clear, radar-based UAV detection systems, by use of AI, provide a greater degree of detection accuracy. By precisely analyzing received radio wave data and algorithmically comparing target signatures to previous targets, radar-based UAV detection systems can quickly identify acquired targets as UAVs, birds, or other elements common to that environment. This allows the system to auto-classify false alarms and prioritize security notifications relating to actual threats. 

Additionally, radar-based detection systems can cover large areas and track multiple targets simultaneously, providing a comprehensive situational awareness to military forces. Finally, radar systems can detect UAVs at long ranges, giving operators ample time to respond and neutralize incoming threats.

Conventional Radar Systems vs Smart Mid-Sized Radar Systems

Conventional radar is by no means new to the military. Systems such as the AN/TPY-2 radar system have long been in use by the United States Missile Defense Agency to track active missiles and coordinate prompt mitigation responses. There has been some success in adapting the high-resolution capabilities and long-range detection ability of conventional missile defense radar systems to detect UAV threats as well. However, conventional radars do run into a few difficulties when it comes to UAV detection. 

Firstly, UAVs tend to have a very small “radar cross section” or amount of mass for a radar system to pick up on. Larger conventional radar systems, designed to detect larger aircraft and missile targets can’t always catch the smaller UAV signatures, especially when UAVs fly at low altitudes where ground clutter can confuse the radio waves returning to the radar receivers. Additionally, not all conventional radar systems are AI-enabled and may have added difficulty in distinguishing between UAV threats and nuisance alarms. 

Smart mid-sized radars, however, are built with smaller targets in mind. Despite not covering the same extensive ranges that conventional radar systems do, when set up around critical sites, smart mid-sized radars do a much more reliable job of picking up the smaller signatures of incoming UAV threats and distinguishing them from local avian activity and ground clutter. 

Integration with Other Military Technologies

Radar-based UAV detection systems can be seamlessly integrated with other technologies, some of them already in military use, to enhance their effectiveness. 

For instance, Spotter Global radars can and are regularly integrated with standard military-issue Panasonic Toughbooks in tactical mobile radar kits. Other Spotter radars, such as the AX250-3D Dome model, can be integrated with PTZ cameras, deterrence systems, and more. Finally, multiple Spotter radars can be networked into a unified site management system (NIO) or integrated into an enterprise level system (IMC) that consolidates security system data from multiple locations. Integration, bringing security data and design elements together from across an entire site or across multiple sites, allows military and security personnel to identify broader security trends, manage system vulnerabilities, create more comprehensive security protocols, and coordinate and organize better security responses especially in emergency situations. 

Challenges and Limitations of Radar-Based UAV Detection

While radar-based detection offers significant advantages for defense against UAVs, these systems are not without their challenges and limitations. 

Not all radar systems have the same integration capabilities:  Radar-based detection systems are most effective when integrated with other security measures, such as alarm systems and cameras. 

System unification is all the more vital when dealing with a live security event, especially one with a fast-moving and dynamic threat such as a kamikaze drone. Security measures must integrate well with each other to provide the fastest and most accurate situation awareness data to quicken response times. 

At a minimum, potential buyers should check which radar systems are compatible with their existing security components and infrastructure. Consultation with a security system integrator may be advisable. 

Cost: Hardware costs, installation costs, and maintenance costs can pile up with radar-based detection systems. Careful evaluation of budgetary constraints as well as the warranty, maintenance, and customer service offerings of optioned radar vendors is recommended. 

At Spotter Global, we are committed to providing high-quality value and service to our customers. Our policy is to offer an extendable three- to five-year warranty on every radar and a guarantee of regular security technician support. To date, we have deployed more than 400 AX250 drone detection radar systems to critical infrastructure sites worldwide.

Regulations: Drone detection and mitigation methods are closely regulated in many nations. In some cases, licensing may be required. As regulations vary widely between nations, thorough research of such regulations before purchase is advised to guarantee radar compliance. 

Future Developments in Radar-Based UAV Detection

The future of radar-based UAV detection holds great promise. Researchers and engineers are continuously working on developing more advanced radar systems that can overcome the limitations of current radar models and other UAV detection technologies. 

For instance, efforts are underway to develop radar systems that are more mobile and integrate more fully with drone mitigation methods. Advancements in machine learning and artificial intelligence are being leveraged to improve detection accuracy and further reduce false alarms. And, of course, efforts to maximize radar coverage areas while also minimizing SwAP are ongoing. 

Implications for Modern Warfare and National Security

The adoption of radar-based UAV detection systems has significant implications for modern warfare and national security. By effectively countering the threat posed by drones, military forces can protect critical infrastructure, troops, encampments, operations, and civilians from potential harm as well as protect morale and maintain the resources necessary to complete military objectives. Furthermore, the ability to detect and track UAVs can provide valuable intelligence on enemy activities, enabling military forces to make more informed tactical decisions. 

The Importance of Radar-Based UAV Detection in Modern Warfare

In conclusion, the growing threat of unmanned aerial vehicles in modern warfare necessitates the development and deployment of effective UAV detection systems. By surpassing the limitations of traditional perimeter security methods as well as RF sniffers, radar-based detection offers a reliable and comprehensive solution to detecting drones, including “dark” drones, and allowing for the effective deployment of various UAV mitigation methods. With its AI-enhanced software to identify drones with small radar cross sections and reduce false alarms, radar-based detection provides military forces with the situational awareness required to neutralize UAV threats effectively and protect critical infrastructure. As technology continues to advance, radar-based detection systems will play a crucial role in safeguarding national security against the evolving UAV threat. 


What is radar-based UAV detection?

Radar-based UAV detection is a technology that uses radar systems to detect and track unmanned, non-rf-emitting aerial vehicles (UAVs) in the airspace.

How does radar-based UAV detection work?

Radar-based UAV detection systems work by emitting radio waves that bounce off UAVs and return to the radar system. The radar system then analyzes the returned signals to determine the location, speed, and direction of the UAVs as well as distinguish UAV signatures from nuisance alarms. 

Why is radar-based UAV detection important in modern warfare?

Radar-based UAV detection is important in modern warfare because it allows military forces to detect and track enemy UAVs at the earliest opportunity, allowing for the most expeditious and effective deployment of UAV countermeasures. This technology can help military forces protect their airspace and assets, gather reliable real-time data on enemy UAV tactics, and neutralize enemy UAVs.

What are the benefits of radar-based UAV detection?

The benefits of radar-based UAV detection include improved situational awareness, reduced false alarms, and enhanced security. This technology can help military forces to detect and track UAVs in real time, which can help them to respond quickly and effectively to potential threats.

What are the limitations of radar-based UAV detection?

Radar-based UAV detection systems come with different integration capabilities, can be expensive to implement and maintain, and are subject to licensing restrictions and regulations in certain countries, which can limit their availability to some military forces.

What are some examples of radar-based UAV detection systems?

The Spotter AX250 radar-based UAV detection system is designed to help protect critical infrastructure from drone security threats. By creating a virtual dome of detection area around and above a site, the AX250 provides comprehensive perimeter security that can detect low-visibility and high-altitude drone attacks that may go undetected by other systems. 

If you would like to learn more about Drone detection radar click on the “Contact Us” button at the top right of this page.  

Spotter Global, Jamie Mortensen March 20, 2024
Learn More

To learn more about how Spotter compact radars can benefit your organization, fill out the form below or call (801) 742-5849 and ask for Nerah.

Thank You For Your Interest

 A Spotter Radar Consultant will contact you soon!

Share this post