Tropospheric scatter

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A tropospheric scatter system can bridge large distances while a microwave relay system (below) requires multiple relay stations due to its line of sight limitation. Tropospheric scatter.jpg
A tropospheric scatter system can bridge large distances while a microwave relay system (below) requires multiple relay stations due to its line of sight limitation.
Boswell Bay, Alaska White Alice Site, Tropospheric scatter antenna and feeder. White Alice Site, Tropospheric Antennas HAER AK-21-A-2.jpg
Boswell Bay, Alaska White Alice Site, Tropospheric scatter antenna and feeder.
Pacific Scatter System Pacific Scatter.jpg
Pacific Scatter System

Tropospheric scatter (also known as troposcatter) is a method of communicating with microwave radio signals over considerable distances – often up to 300 kilometres (190 mi), and further depending on terrain and climate factors. This method of propagation uses the tropospheric scatter phenomenon, where radio waves at UHF and SHF frequencies are randomly scattered as they pass through the upper layers of the troposphere. Radio signals are transmitted in a narrow beam aimed just above the horizon in the direction of the receiver station. As the signals pass through the troposphere, some of the energy is scattered back toward the Earth, allowing the receiver station to pick up the signal. [1]

Ultra high frequency radio waves

Ultra high frequency (UHF) is the ITU designation for radio frequencies in the range between 300 megahertz (MHz) and 3 gigahertz (GHz), also known as the decimetre band as the wavelengths range from one meter to one tenth of a meter. Radio waves with frequencies above the UHF band fall into the super-high frequency (SHF) or microwave frequency range. Lower frequency signals fall into the VHF or lower bands. UHF radio waves propagate mainly by line of sight; they are blocked by hills and large buildings although the transmission through building walls is strong enough for indoor reception. They are used for television broadcasting, cell phones, satellite communication including GPS, personal radio services including Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, walkie-talkies, cordless phones, and numerous other applications.

Super high frequency (SHF) is the ITU designation for radio frequencies (RF) in the range between 3 and 30 gigahertz (GHz). This band of frequencies is also known as the centimetre band or centimetre wave as the wavelengths range from one to ten centimetres. These frequencies fall within the microwave band, so radio waves with these frequencies are called microwaves. The small wavelength of microwaves allows them to be directed in narrow beams by aperture antennas such as parabolic dishes and horn antennas, so they are used for point-to-point communication and data links and for radar. This frequency range is used for most radar transmitters, wireless LANs, satellite communication, microwave radio relay links, and numerous short range terrestrial data links. They are also used for heating in industrial microwave heating, medical diathermy, microwave hyperthermy to treat cancer, and to cook food in microwave ovens.

Frequency is the number of occurrences of a repeating event per unit of time. It is also referred to as temporal frequency, which emphasizes the contrast to spatial frequency and angular frequency. The period is the duration of time of one cycle in a repeating event, so the period is the reciprocal of the frequency. For example: if a newborn baby's heart beats at a frequency of 120 times a minute, its period—the time interval between beats—is half a second. Frequency is an important parameter used in science and engineering to specify the rate of oscillatory and vibratory phenomena, such as mechanical vibrations, audio signals (sound), radio waves, and light.


Normally, signals in the microwave frequency range travel in straight lines, and so are limited to line of sight applications, in which the receiver can be 'seen' by the transmitter. Communication distances are limited by the visual horizon to around 30–40 miles (48–64 km). Troposcatter allows microwave communication beyond the horizon. It was developed in the 1950s and used for military communications until communications satellites largely replaced it in the 1970s.

Line-of-sight propagation characteristic of electromagnetic radiation or acoustic wave propagation which means waves which travel in a direct path from the source to the receiver

Line-of-sight propagation is a characteristic of electromagnetic radiation or acoustic wave propagation which means waves travel in a direct path from the source to the receiver. Electromagnetic transmission includes light emissions traveling in a straight line. The rays or waves may be diffracted, refracted, reflected, or absorbed by the atmosphere and obstructions with material and generally cannot travel over the horizon or behind obstacles.

Horizon apparent line that separates earth from sky

The horizon or skyline is the apparent line that separates earth from sky, the line that divides all visible directions into two categories: those that intersect the Earth's surface, and those that do not. The true horizon is actually a theoretical line, which can only be observed when it lies on the sea surface. At many locations, this line is obscured by land, trees, buildings, mountains, etc., and the resulting intersection of earth and sky is called the visible horizon. When looking at a sea from a shore, the part of the sea closest to the horizon is called the offing.

Communications satellite artificial satellite sent to space for the purpose of telecommunications

A communications satellite is an artificial satellite that relays and amplifies radio telecommunications signals via a transponder; it creates a communication channel between a source transmitter and a receiver at different locations on Earth. Communications satellites are used for television, telephone, radio, internet, and military applications. There are 2,134 communications satellites in Earth’s orbit, used by both private and government organizations. Many are in geostationary orbit 22,200 miles (35,700 km) above the equator, so that the satellite appears stationary at the same point in the sky, so the satellite dish antennas of ground stations can be aimed permanently at that spot and do not have to move to track it.

Because the troposphere is turbulent and has a high proportion of moisture the tropospheric scatter radio signals are refracted and consequently only a tiny proportion of the radio energy is collected by the receiving antennas. Frequencies of transmission around 2 GHz are best suited for tropospheric scatter systems as at this frequency the wavelength of the signal interacts well with the moist, turbulent areas of the troposphere, improving signal to noise ratios.


Historically, high gain dish or billboard antennas were required for tropospheric scatter systems as the propagation losses are very high; only about one billion-billionth (1 x 10−12) of the transmit power is available at the receiver. Paths were established at distances over 1,000 km. They required antennas ranging from 9 meters to 36 meters and amplifiers ranging from 1 kW to 50 kW. These were analogue systems which were capable of transmitting a few voice channels.

Path loss is the reduction in power density (attenuation) of an electromagnetic wave as it propagates through space. Path loss is a major component in the analysis and design of the link budget of a telecommunication system.

Troposcatter systems have evolved over the years. With communication satellites used for long-distance communication links, current troposcatter systems are employed over shorter distances than previous systems, use smaller antennas and amplifiers, and have much higher bandwidth capabilities. Typical distances are between 50 km and 250 km, though greater distances can be achieved depending on the climate, terrain, and data rate required. Typical antenna sizes range from 1.2 meters to 12 meters while typical amplifier sizes range from 10W to 2 kW. Data rates over 20Mbit/s can be achieved with today's technology.

Tropospheric scatter is a fairly secure method of propagation as dish alignment is critical, making it extremely difficult to intercept the signals, especially if transmitted across open water, making them highly attractive to military users. Military systems have tended to be ‘thin-line’ tropo – so called because only a narrow bandwidth ‘information’ channel was carried on the tropo system; generally up to 32 analogue (4 kHz bandwidth) channels. Modern military systems are "wideband" as they operate 4-16 Mbit/s digital data channels.

Bandwidth (signal processing) difference between the upper and lower frequencies in a continuous set of frequencies

Bandwidth is the difference between the upper and lower frequencies in a continuous band of frequencies. It is typically measured in hertz, and depending on context, may specifically refer to passband bandwidth or baseband bandwidth. Passband bandwidth is the difference between the upper and lower cutoff frequencies of, for example, a band-pass filter, a communication channel, or a signal spectrum. Baseband bandwidth applies to a low-pass filter or baseband signal; the bandwidth is equal to its upper cutoff frequency.

Civilian troposcatter systems, such as the British Telecom (BT) North Sea oil communications network, required higher capacity ‘information’ channels than were available using HF (high frequency – 3 to 30 MHz) radio signals, before satellite technology was available. The BT systems, based at Scousburgh in the Shetland Islands, Mormond Hill in Aberdeenshire and Row Brow near Scarborough, were capable of transmitting and receiving 156 analogue (4 kHz bandwidth) channels of data and telephony to / from North Sea oil production platforms, using frequency-division multiplexing (FDMX) to combine the channels.

Because of the nature of the turbulence in the troposphere, quadruple diversity propagation paths were used to ensure 99.98% reliability of the service, equating to about 3 minutes of downtime due to propagation drop out per month. The quadruple space and polarisation diversity systems needed two separate dish antennae (spaced several metres apart) and two differently polarised feed horns – one using vertical polarisation, the other using horizontal polarisation. This ensured that at least one signal path was open at any one time. The signals from the four different paths were recombined in the receiver where a phase corrector removed the phase differences of each signal. Phase differences were caused by the different path lengths of each signal from transmitter to receiver. Once phase corrected, the four signals could be combined additively.

Atmosphere layers-en.svg

Tropospheric scatter communications networks

The tropospheric scatter phenomenon has been used to build both civilian and military communication links in a number of parts of the world, including:

ACE High
NATO in Europe.
BT (British Telecom)
United Kingdom - Shetland to Mormond Hill
Torfhaus-Berlin, Clenze-Berlin at Cold War times
Portugal Telecom
Portugal - Serra de Nogueira to Artzamendi
CNT (Canadian telecomms company)
Tsiigehtchic to Galena
Hay River - Port Radium - Lady Franklin Point
Cuba - Florida
Guanabo to Florida City
AT&T Corporation

Project Offices

Chatham, NC - Buckingham, VA - Charlottesville, VA - Leesburg, VA - Hagerstown, MD
Texas Towers - Air defence radars.
Texas Tower 2
Georges Bank, in 56-foot (17 m) deep water, 110 miles (180 km) east of Cape Cod 41°44′N 67°47′W / 41.733°N 67.783°W / 41.733; -67.783, linked to North Truro, MA.
Texas Tower 3
Nantucket Shoals, in 80-foot (24 m) water, 100 miles (160 km) south-east of Rhode Island 40°45′N 69°19′W / 40.75°N 69.317°W / 40.75; -69.317, linked to Montauk AFB, Long Island, NY.
Texas Tower 4
Un-named Shoal (Unofficially: Old Shaky), in 185-foot (56 m) water, 84 miles (135 km) south-east of New York City 39°48′N 72°40′W (Destroyed, with 28 killed, during a storm on 15 January 1961), linked to Highlands, NJ mainland station.
Texas Tower 1
Cashes Ledge (Lat. 42° 53'N., Long. 68° 57'W., 36-foot depth), 100 miles east of New Hampshire, not built.
Texas Tower 5
Brown's Bank (Lat. 42° 47'N., Long. 65° 37'W., 84foot depth), 75 miles south of Nova Scotia, not built.
Mid Canada Line
A series of five stations (070, 060, 050, 415, 410) in Ontario and Quebec around the lower Hudson Bay.
Pinetree Line, Pole Vault
A series of fourteen stations providing communications for Eastern seaboard radar stations of the US/Canadian Pinetree line, running from N-31 Frobisher Bay, Baffin Island to St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador.
White Alice/DEW Line/DEW Training (Cold War era)
A former military and civil communications network with eighty stations stretching up the western seaboard from Port Hardy, Vancouver Island north to Barter Island (BAR), west to Shemya, Alaska (SYA) in the Aleutian Islands (just a few hundred miles from the Soviet Union) and east across arctic Canada to Greenland. Note that not all station were troposcatter, but many were. It also included a training facility for White Alice/DEW line tropo-scatter network located between Pecatonica, Illinois to Streator, Illinois.
DEW Line (Post Cold War era)
Several tropo-scatter networks providing communications for the extensive air-defence radar chain in the far north of Canada and the US.
NATO air-defence network stretching from RAF Fylingdales, via Mormond Hill, UK, Sornfelli (Faroe Islands), Höfn, Iceland to Keflavik DYE-5, Rockville.
A US Army network from RAF Fylingdales to a network in Germany and a single station in France (Maison Fort).
A US Navy network covering the European coast of the Mediterranean Sea from San Pablo, Spain in the west to Adana AFB, Turkey in the East, with headquarters at Ringstead in Surrey, England.
Royal Air Force

Communications to British Forces Germany, running from Swingate in Kent to Lammersdorf in Germany.

A Warsaw Pact tropo-scatter network stretching from near Rostok in the DDR (Deutsches Demokratisches Republik), Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, Byelorussia USSR, Ukraine USSR, Romania and Bulgaria.
A Soviet network stretching right across the USSR.
India - USSR
A single section from Srinigar, Kashmir, India to Dangara, Tajikistan, USSR.
Indian Air Force
Part of an Air Defence Network covering major air bases, radar installations and missile sites in Northern and central India. The network is being phased out to be replaced with more modern fiber optic based communication systems. [2]
Peace Ruby, Spellout, Peace Net
An air-defence network set up by the United States in Iran pre-revolution. Spellout built a radar and comms network in the north of Iran. Peace Ruby built another air-defence network in the south and Peace net integrated the two networks.
Bahrain - UAE
A tropo-scatter system linking Al Manamah, Bahrain to Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
A tropo-scatter communications system providing military comms to the former SOAF - Sultan of Oman's Air Force, (now RAFO - Royal Air Force of Oman), across the Sultanate of Oman.
A Royal Saudi Air Force tropo-scatter network linking major airbases and population centres in Saudi Arabia.
A single system linking Sana'a with Sa'dah.
Two networks run by the United States linking military bases in Thailand and South Vietnam.
Phil - Tai - Oki
A system linking the Philippines with Taiwan.
Japanese Troposcatter Networks
Two networks linking Japanese islands from North to South.

Tactical Troposcatter Communication systems

As well as the permanent networks detailed above, there have been many tactical transportable systems produced by several countries:- [3]

Soviet / Russian Troposcatter Systems
MNIRTI R-423-1 Brig-1/R-423-2A Brig-2A/R-423-1KF
MNIRTI R-444 Eshelon / R-444-7,5 Eshelon D
MNIRTI R-420 Atlet-D
NIRTI R-417 Baget/R-417S Baget S
NPP Radiosvyaz R-412 A/B/F/S TORF
MNIRTI R-410/R-410-5,5/R-410-7,5 Atlet / Albatros
MNIRTI R-408/R-408M Baklan
People's Republic of China (PRoC), People's Liberation Army (PLA) Troposcatter Systems
CETC TS-504 Troposcatter Communication System
CETC TS-510/GS-510 Troposcatter Communication System
Western Troposcatter Systems
AN/TRC-97 Troposcatter Communication System
AN/TRC-170 Tropospheric Scatter Microwave Radio Terminal [4]
AN/GRC-201 Troposcatter Communication System
US Army TRC-170 Tropo Scatter Microwave System Tropo Scatter Microwave System Antenna.jpg
US Army TRC-170 Tropo Scatter Microwave System

The U.S. Army and Air Force use tactical tropospheric scatter systems developed by Raytheon for long haul communications. The systems come in two configurations, the original "heavy tropo", and a newer "light tropo" configuration exist. The systems provide four multiplexed group channels and trunk encryption, and 16 or 32 local analog phone extensions. The U.S. Marine Corps also uses the same device, albeit an older version.

See also

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White Alice Communications System

The White Alice Communications System was a United States Air Force telecommunication network with 80 radio stations constructed in Alaska during the Cold War. It used tropospheric scatter for over-the-horizon links and microwave relay for shorter line-of-sight links. Sites were characterized by large parabolic, tropospheric scatter antennas as well as smaller microwave dishes for point to point links.


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The AN/TRC-80 Radio Terminal Set was a United States Army communications system that provided line-of-sight or tropospheric scatter voice and teletypewriter communications between Pershing missile firing units and higher headquarters. Commonly known as the "Track 80", it was built by Collins Radio and first delivered in 1960.

This is an index to articles about terms used in discussion of radio propagation.

Tropospheric propagation describes electromagnetic propagation in relation to the troposphere. The service area from a VHF or UHF radio transmitter extends to just beyond the optical horizon, at which point signals start to rapidly reduce in strength. Viewers living in such a "deep fringe" reception area will notice that during certain conditions, weak signals normally masked by noise increase in signal strength to allow quality reception. Such conditions are related to the current state of the troposphere.

The North Atlantic Radio System (NARS) was a chain of five tropospheric scatter communication sites that stretched from Iceland to RAF Fylingdales, forming an extension of the Distant Early Warning Line.