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Over the horizon

IACIT builds radar capable of monitoring ocean regions and detecting vessels at sea beyond the field-of-view limit

IACIT IACIT radar tower installed at a Navy base in the city of Santa Vitória do Palmar, on the coast of Rio Grande do Sul StateIACIT

Capable of detecting and identifying targets located great distances offshore, the radars known as OTH (over the horizon) are produced by few countries. The first Brazilian prototype of this type of radar was assembled this year at the Albardão Lighthouse, a Brazilian Navy facility located on the coast of the state of Rio Grande do Sul, where it is undergoing adjustments and field tests. IACIT Soluções Tecnológicas, a local company responsible for developing the radar, expects to complete the testing phase by June 2017. Development of the OTH radar is receiving logistical support from the Navy and received an investment of R$4.5 million from the Brazilian Innovation Agency (FINEP) at the beginning of radar development.

The company began to design the equipment in 2013, with the objective of giving Brazil more autonomy in control and surveillance of borders and of the sea and low-altitude air space. “Our radar can monitor vessels up to 200 nautical miles from the coast [around 370 kilometers (km)], exceeding the direct line of sight of conventional radars,” explains Luiz Carlos Teixeira, president of IACIT. Traditional radars emit electromagnetic waves that move along a linear trajectory and can only detect objects within their field of view. “This radar was designed principally for the Blue Amazon Management System (SisGAAz), because the company saw a good opportunity to develop the equipment that will help preserve the riches of the oceans under Brazil’s jurisdiction.” SisGAAz is a national defense project established by the Brazilian government to monitor and manage a coastal area measuring 4.5 million km2, known as Blue Amazon.

R&D Center
São José dos Campos (SP)
No. of employees
Principal products
Development of radars and systems for security, defense, air navigation and meteorology

OTH radars can be divided into two categories, depending on the way their electromagnetic waves propagate: skywaves and surface waves. The majority in operation in the world belong to the category of skywaves, which emit high-power waves towards the sky, hence the name. The signal is reflected by the ionosphere — the plasma layer of the atmosphere encompassing altitudes from 60 km to 1,000 km — and back to Earth, focusing on a particular region of the ocean. That way, the radar can “see” targets hundreds or thousands of miles away, past the horizon. The problem is that this type of equipment does not operate well in the equatorial region of our planet, where the ionosphere is unstable and turbulent, affecting signal reflection. From an electromagnetic point of view, Earth’s equatorial zone is a little to the south of the Equator, precisely in the subtropical region in South and Southeast Brazil.

“In this region, the alternative is to employ a system whose waves propagate between the lower layers of the atmosphere and the conductive surface of the sea — surface waves. This is the technology we used for the IACIT OTH 0100,” explains electronics engineer Pérsio Vitor Abrahão, head of IACIT research, development and innovation. The U.S. company Raytheon is one of the companies that has already fielded this type of radar on the Indian Ocean and the Black Sea. The IACIT model operates in the high-frequency band, from 1 to 30 megahertz (MHz), and its wave beam provides 120 degrees of coverage from its transmitting antenna. The receiver uses a set of vertical antennas in a circular formation, installed near the transmitter. Each of the antennas is connected to a highly sensitive digital receiver responsible for sending the signals to the central system (see infographic).

LÉO RAMOS Tests of aviation control equipment at airports…LÉO RAMOS

According to Luiz Teixeira, the OTH 0100 has a digital processing architecture capable of suppressing different common types of interference in the high-frequency range, noise from communication systems and from the ionosphere. “With this, our radar detects and tracks targets on the high seas,” he says. The signal processing system was the result of technology transfer from Elta Systems, a subsidiary of Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), one of Israel’s leading defense companies. Specializing in the development of electromagnetic sensors, including radar and electronic warfare and communication systems (used to confuse radars and enemy troop communications), Elta acquired 40% of IACIT in July 2013. “They were interested in our company and sought us out. Our technological capacity, especially the high-frequency radar platform we had developed between 2010 and 2012, attracted their attention,” says Teixeira. After the agreement was signed, IACIT received technology from its Israeli partner and became the technical arm of Elta Systems in Brazil.

Currently, the countries recognized as possessing the technology are the United States, Russia, England, France, Canada, Australia and China. The development of the first OTH radars gained momentum after World War II, when the world suffered from the tense atmosphere of the Cold War. The Soviets are believed to have developed the first operating OTH system in 1949, called Veyer, but little is known about it. In the 1960s, an Anglo-American consortium created the Cobra Mist radar, which began testing in 1972, but was unsuccessful. At the same time, the US Air Force introduced the AN/FPS-118 system, considered the first successful OTH radar project.

Léo Ramos … and screen with blocker performance dataLéo Ramos

Award for innovation
Headquartered in São José dos Campos, in upstate São Paulo, IACIT celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2016. Since 2013, it has been certified by the Ministry of Defense as a Strategic Defense Company. This classification provides the company with competitive advantages — including some tax benefits — when selling its products. A year earlier, the company had won the FINEP National Innovation Award in the Medium-Sized Company category for developing high-tech products. With a research and development (R&D) department employing 20 researchers, the company is focused on creating systems not only for the defense sector, but also for public safety, air navigation and meteorology.

“We invest about 8% of our annual revenue in R&D. In 2015, we earned R$15 million, and expect the same this year,” says Luiz Teixeira. The company’s research facilities include three laboratories in São José dos Campos (one for software, another for hardware, processing and electronics, and a third for radar testing), a field laboratory in the neighboring municipality of Pindamonhangaba, to test air navigation equipment, and another field testing laboratory at the Albardão Lighthouse, the naval base located in Santa Vitória do Palmar (RS), where the OTH radar is installed.

Léo Ramos Luiz Carlos Teixeira, company president, Cesar Herrera, Rodrigo Corrá Dellu and Pércio Abrahão, from the R&D teamLéo Ramos

In addition to the OTH radar, IACIT’s portfolio includes an oceanic radar that permits real-time observation of large areas of the sea. The equipment is designed to obtain measurements of ocean surface currents through high-frequency signals and can be used for various civil, scientific and national security applications. Its range is about 150 km from the coast (along the Earth’s surface). “Oceanic radars are an important technology for a country like Brazil, which has a long coast,” says Professor Paulo Henrique Rezende Calil, coordinator of the Ocean Dynamics and Modeling Laboratory of the Oceanography Institute of the Federal University of Rio Grande (FURG).

The researcher explains that these devices provide information about sea conditions, such as wave height, direction and speed of currents, and wind. “They are useful for exploring Brazil’s exclusive economic zone, monitoring environmental disasters, such as oil spills, and for offshore rescue operations,” he explains. The exclusive economic zone is the section of the ocean extending up to 370 km from the coast, over which countries have priority in terms of exploiting natural resources. The company is negotiating the sale of the first radar of this type to the Brazilian government. The world market for equipment of this kind is dominated by two manufacturers, Codar in the US and Helzel in Germany. The latter, one of IACIT’s partners, is transferring radar signal processing technology to it.

Drone blocker
Another newly developed product was an electronic countermeasure system for blocking drones. Created with Brazilian technology, the DroneBlocker model is equipped with cameras, and acoustic and frequency sensors capable of detecting unmanned flying objects up to 1,500 meters away. When this occurs, the blocker interferes with communications between the drone and its controller, causing the device to land or return to the point of origin regardless of who is controlling the device.

The company signed a contract with the Brazilian Army to supply eight DroneBlockers and received inquiries from interested parties from more than 20 countries, according to Luiz Teixeira. “The device was used during the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro to protect sports facilities.” It costs about R$450,000 and is part of a broader set of cell-phone-, radio- and other radio-frequency-signal-blocking devices.