The German air force is testing passive radar as a complementary surveillance technique for ground-based air-defense formations to help surprise adversaries. The technology measures disturbances in commercial television and radio broadcast signals permeating crowded airspaces and provides an “early cue” about approaching threats.

Passive radar works covertly because it measures aerial objects’ echos from existing radio waves and doesn’t pulse the airspace for threats. The use of passive radar still requires defenders to turn on their active radar, which exposes them to detection, but only for brief periods. The system in question is called Twinvis, made by sensor specialist Hensoldt.

The company is expecting to sell a small number of these systems to the air service, with money from a €100 billion ($105.8 billion) special military fund created by the government after Russia invaded Ukraine.

Passive radar technology has existed for decades, but recent advances in sensing and signals processing have made it usable in real-world operations. The expectation of passive radar comes in the context of observations from the battlefields of Ukraine, where neither Russia nor Ukraine have been able to establish air superiority due to ground-based defenses being effective.

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