Bouncing radio waves thousands of kilometres across the sky is a normal day for Giuseppe (Joe) Fabrizio, a Defence scientist based in Adelaide.
In a world of advancements for complex radar applications to meet the demands of the modern battlespace, he is still pushing technological boundaries in his nearly 30-year career.
Dr Fabrizio is part of the ‘Microwave Radar Systems Science and Technology Capability’ at Defence Science and Technology (DST). He is responsible for research and development in phased-array radar systems above the HF band.
“One of my roles is to encourage innovation and enable the transition of new techniques, algorithms and systems to improve capabilities of Defence platforms,” he said.
“Radar will always be indispensable as a sensor, but in the future we will be working in more congested and contested electromagnetic environments, which are constantly evolving.
“A push will be to continually improve the electronic protection of our radars because there is more noise and interference to deal with in an increasingly crowded spectrum.
“We also need to think about next-generation phased-array systems, which could be used for radar and other radio frequency functions.
“Radars typically operate in single frequency bands, but in the future we may be looking at broadband systems, which can operate across multiple frequency bands.”
He joined DST in 1993 after completing his Bachelor of Electrical and Electronic Engineering degree at the University of Adelaide.
He soon became the lead for developing, testing and implementing advanced signal-processing and electronic warfare techniques to enhance the operational performance of Australia’s Jindalee Operational Radar Network (JORN).
Since its beginnings in 1972 as the Jindalee Project, JORN has become a state-of-the-art defence system providing wide area surveillance at ranges of 1000 to 3000 kilometres.
It plays a vital role in supporting the ADF’s air and maritime operations, border protection, disaster relief and search-and-rescue operations.
It provides 24-hour surveillance of the northern and western approaches to Australia and assists in detecting illegal entry, smuggling and unlicenced fishing.
Dr Fabrizio still remembers his first assignment with JORN.
“It was still the early days of JORN and the operational radar system was in Alice Springs,” he said.
“My task was to look at Fast Fourier Transform (FFT) algorithms used to detect targets and to calculate their range and velocity in the over-the-horizon radar data.
“I identified, researched and tested a faster and more flexible FFT technique, which provided operational benefits and then became a part of the JORN system.”
He said it was fantastic to be a part of a unique, cutting-edge, world-leading system.
“It was a watershed moment to discover my university training could be applied to a large-scale, sophisticated radar system to enhance its capability,” he said.
“It was my first tangible contribution to our Defence capability.”
DST quickly realised Dr Fabrizio’s potential and he was sent back to university get his PhD and study adaptive signal processing for over-the-horizon radar.
“The ionosphere is a turbulent ionised gas – it isn’t a perfect mirror for high frequency signals,” he said.
“Which means when radio waves are reflected, they are also distorted.
“I experimented with data to model the fine distortions, or the ‘crinkles’, imposed on radio waves by the ionosphere.
“This allowed me to validate why some signal-processing techniques didn’t perform in practice as we expected them to perform from textbook models.
“After my studies I used those models to develop robust adaptive signal processing algorithms to reject noise and interference to the radar more effectively.”
JORN continued to develop and expand its long-range detection capability to become a fully fledged network before it was handed to Air Force in 2003.
Dr Fabrizio said it was incredible to watch the best over-the-horizon radar network in the world mature.
“A critical part of my job as the network evolved was to spend more time in the JORN control room at RAAF Base Edinburgh,” he said.
“It’s a highly collegiate atmosphere and there’s also a sense of awe for the unique capabilities of the system.”
After spending close to 20 years studying and working on over-the-horizon radar, he decided to publish a book; High Frequency Over-the-Horizon Radar has become one of the main dedicated texts on the subject.