Why are meteorological radars so expensive?

It took many years for Cuban Meteorological Institute to reach two very important characteristics in radar exploitation: INDEPENDENCE and SUSTAINABILITY. Those are weird features in modern life, especially for developing countries. That looks like swimming against the tide. Nowadays, almost everything is designed to be changed for another model in a short time.  In the seventies, companies like Mitsubishi were very proud building radars with ALL parts made by Mitsubishi;  so did Soviet Electromash Factory. Nowadays most companies ASSEMBLE radars using parts from many different manufacturers. Cell phones are supposed to be changed frequently, so they are produced and sold by millions. That is not the case with radars, which are supposed to be on duty for 10-15 years. What can the companies do to keep economically solvent, selling expensive radars…rarely? In my modest opinion the answer could be:

  • Technological Dependence. Radar manufacturers oblige buyers to make repairs and maintenance with them, for the rest of radar´s life. They get this, by means of giving not enough information to repair by themselves. That means that the buyer must pay expensive annual maintenance contracts to have access to spare parts and to be serviced when needed;
  • Proprietary software. The buyer must use manufacturer´s proprietary software, which is given with the radar. License might be updated frequently for many reasons (to solve software failure, to add more workstations, to add new features, or just to renew expired license), additional licenses could be very expensive ;
  • Upgrade. After some years, spare parts will not be available (in fact, manufacturer cannot be blamed on that, it´s the world that goes this way), so tenants will be obliged to pay (again) expensive modifications exhibiting more modern technology (sometimes not necessarily desired) to keep the radar working…or scrap it.
  • And…of course, selling radars at high prices.

Cuban Meteorological Institute learned this lesson the hard way (worsen by US embargo against Cuba).

For Cuban Meteorological Institute, INDEPENDENCE doesn´t mean that radars will be completely “Made in Cuba”. Independence means that radar modules (blocks) should be made following own design, using components widely available from many different vendors and manufacturers. Technical solutions should be based on open electronics and open software. There must be no technological dependence to one specific manufacturer or country.

For Cuban Meteorological Institute, SUSTAINABILTY means that equipment should allow upgrade and modernization without payment to foreign companies.

This is our own way.

Cuban prototype of Meteorological Radar

Acerca de meteoradar

Ingeniero eléctrico, Doctor en Ciencias Técnicas, Profesor Titular, Director del Centro Nacional de Radares del Instituto de Meteorología de Cuba.
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