Military bases and ranges have become refugia for birds and other wildlife as encroachment has turned once-rural military facilities into islands of habitat diversity surrounded by seas of urbanization. This trend has increased the military’s already significant role as stewards of its environment and is straining the ability of natural resource managers to protect the wildlife at these facilities while ensuring that the military can prepare and train for its primary missions. In parallel, the hazards and costs from bird strikes have increased markedly as has public awareness since the crash of US Airways Flight #1549 into the Hudson River on January 15, 2009. Resource managers need better tools to aid them in their efforts. Digital avian radars appear to be such a tool.

Technology Description

The Integration and Validation of Avian Radars (IVAR) project was established to determine whether commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) digital avian radar technology can provide useful and accurate data on bird movements in real-world operational environments at military facilities. The IVAR team established six performance objectives with 38 metrics and criteria to test digital avian radar systems built by Accipiter Radar Technologies, Inc. (ARTI). Demonstration and validation studies were conducted at seven locations: Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina; Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland; Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Washington; Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska; Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, Washington; Edisto Island, South Carolina; and ARTI, Ontario, Canada.

Demonstration Results

More than 1500 targets being tracked automatically by the radars were confirmed by visual observers to be birds. This project also used thermal imaging to confirm that targets tracked by the radar at night were birds. It was demonstrated that these avian radars could operate unattended to track birds in 3-D in real time over a range of 0-11 km, up to altitudes of 1 km, through a complete 360° field-of-view, and could do so continuously 24/7 for a period of years. It was further demonstrated that these systems can track more than 100 targets simultaneously, that they can detect 50 times more birds than human observers using conventional visual methods, and that they can record a host of parameters (e.g., time, location, speed, heading, etc.) for each tracked target and stream these target data in real time across both local- and wide-area networks with a high degree of reliability for storage and/or redistribution to other sites to display on maps, to generate graphs of bird activity patterns in both time and space, and to activate user-defined alerts to resource managers and air operations personnel when birds enter a critical airspace in specified densities, altitudes, directions of flight, etc. And finally, it was demonstrated that these avian radars can combine the tracks from two or more radars into an integrated display that increases situational awareness for the operators, and can fuse the tracks of targets in those areas where the radar beams overlap into common tracks that increase track continuity across the common operational picture.

The IVAR project also demonstrated that the cost of operating an avian radar system is low compared to the cost of providing the same coverage, where it’s even possible, with human observers, while the reliability of the systems is high and most routine maintenance can be handled by local personnel or remotely by the vendor when network connectivity is available. Moreover, little training is required for local users to learn to operate these avian radar systems and utilize the data they generate.

To access end-user products developed through this research, please visit the Species Management section on the RC Tools and Training page.

Implementation Issues

The cost of acquiring, installing, and operating an avian radar system can vary greatly depending on the facility’s requirements. System costs ranged from $425,000 for a standalone system configuration that includes the radar system, installation, and operation and maintenance over a 5-year lifespan, to $1,850,000 for an advanced network-capable system with data fusion capability and a statistical processor operated over a 7-year lifespan.

The avian radar systems evaluated by the IVAR project, as well as systems by other vendors, are available today as COTS products. To assist users in determining what features to look for in an avian radar system based on their requirements and at what level to expect these systems to perform the specified functions, the IVAR team has created a Functional Requirements and Performance Specifications for Avian Radar Systems document as a companion to the Final Report. The Federal Aviation Administration has also released a draft Advisory Circular 150/5220-25 on avian radar systems that provides guidance and performance specifications for selecting, deploying, and operating avian radar systems at civil airports, much of which is equally applicable at military airfields. And finally, the U.S. Air Force has, and the U.S. Navy (including the Marine Corps) is in the process of implementing, bird-aircraft strike hazard (BASH) programs of record that (will) provide both policy and funding guidance to military facilities.