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Direction finding

The meaning of «direction finding»

Direction finding (DF), or radio direction finding (RDF), is the measurement of the direction from which a received signal was transmitted. This can refer to radio or other forms of wireless communication, including radar signals detection and monitoring (ELINT/ESM). By combining the direction information from two or more suitably spaced receivers (or a single mobile receiver), the source of a transmission may be located via triangulation. Radio direction finding is used in the navigation of ships and aircraft, to locate emergency transmitters for search and rescue, for tracking wildlife, and to locate illegal or interfering transmitters. RDF was important in combating German threats during both the World War II Battle of Britain and the long running Battle of the Atlantic. In the former, the Air Ministry also used RDF to locate its own fighter groups and vector them to detected German raids.

RDF systems can be used with any radio source, although very long wavelengths (low frequencies) require very large antennas, and are generally used only on ground-based systems. These wavelengths are nevertheless used for marine radio navigation as they can travel very long distances "over the horizon", which is valuable for ships when the line-of-sight may be only a few tens of kilometres. For aerial use, where the horizon may extend to hundreds of kilometres, higher frequencies can be used, allowing the use of much smaller antennas. An automatic direction finder, which could be tuned to radio beacons called non-directional beacons or commercial AM radio broadcasters, was until recently, a feature of most aircraft, but is now being phased out [1]

For the military, RDF is a key tool of signals intelligence. The ability to locate the position of an enemy transmitter has been invaluable since World War I, and played a key role in World War II's Battle of the Atlantic. It is estimated that the UK's advanced "huff-duff" systems were directly or indirectly responsible for 24% of all U-Boats sunk during the war. Modern systems often used phased array antennas to allow rapid beamforming for highly accurate results, and are part of a larger electronic warfare suite.

Early radio direction finders used mechanically rotated antennas that compared signal strengths, and several electronic versions of the same concept followed. Modern systems use the comparison of phase or doppler techniques which are generally simpler to automate. Early British radar sets were referred to as RDF, which is often stated was a deception. In fact, the Chain Home systems used large RDF receivers to determine directions. Later radar systems generally used a single antenna for broadcast and reception, and determined direction from the direction the antenna was facing.[2]

Direction finding requires an antenna that is directional (more sensitive in certain directions than in others). Many antenna designs exhibit this property. For example, a Yagi antenna has quite pronounced directionality, so the source of a transmission can be determined simply by pointing it in the direction where the maximum signal level is obtained. However, to establish direction to great accuracy requires more sophisticated technique.

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