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Chinese scientists claim to have developed a new passive bistatic radar that can track commercial ships at sea by “borrowing” external radar emitters.

The scientists have allegedly developed a way to “borrow” or “piggyback” radar signals from things like warships or ground-based emitters to locate and track cargo ships at sea. This technique uses passive bistatic radar (PBR) and requires a standard laptop, an electromagnetic wave analyzer, and a small antenna. This innovation may have potential applications in electronic reconnaissance, anti-radiation weaponry, ultra-low altitude penetration missions, and stealth technology, as reported by the South China Morning Post.

According to Interesting Engineering, PBR is a type of radar technology that is significantly different from traditional radar systems. While conventional radar systems use their transmitters to emit signals and then receive reflections from objects, PBR systems rely on external sources of electromagnetic radiation.

Radar technology uses electromagnetic waves to locate targets and requires the knowledge of detailed physical parameters that are only known to the transmitter. The signals appear as a tangled mess to outsiders, and it would be near impossible to extract valuable information from them. Another difficulty of detecting targets at sea using radar is that the electromagnetic waves reflect off the waves, creating noise that can drown out crucial information.

The team overcame these challenges by using a new technique and powerful algorithm, successfully finding all the commercial ships sailing within a 20 km radius of the shore, and even collecting vital information about the vessels’ course and speed (which would be useful in the event of a drone or missile attack).

Furthermore, this new system can utilize signals from military platforms of any country in real-world scenarios, and the team is confident that their system could use non-friendly radar signals to detect ships entering and leaving ports.

Despite not being a significant breakthrough for countries with extensive radar networks, this technology could be a vital solution for smaller nations or forces whose radars are either destroyed or not affordable.