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DUTY CYCLE
Duty cycle (or duty factor) is a measure of the fraction of the time a radar is transmitting. It is important
because it relates to peak and average power in the determination of total energy output. This, in turn,
ultimately effects the strength of the reflected signal as well as the required power supply capacity and cooling
requirements of the transmitter.
Although there are exceptions, most radio frequency (RF) measurements are
either continuous wave (CW) or pulsed RF. CW RF is uninterrupted RF such as from an oscillator. Amplitude
modulated (AM), frequency modulated (FM), and phase modulated (PM) RF are considered CW since the RF is
continuously present. The power may vary with time due to modulation, but RF is always present. Pulsed RF, on the
other hand, is bursts (pulses) of RF with no RF present between bursts. The most general case of pulsed RF
consists of pulses of a fixed pulse width (PW) which come at a fixed time interval, or period, (T). For clarity
and ease of this discussion, it is assumed that all RF pulses in a pulse train have the same amplitude. Pulses at
a fixed interval of time arrive at a rate or frequency referred to as the pulse repetition frequency (PRF) of so
many pulse per second. Pulse repetition interval (PRI) and PRF are reciprocals of each other. [1]
PRF = 1/T = 1/PRI Power measurements are classified as either peak pulse power, P_{p}, or average
power, P_{ave}. The actual power in pulsed RF occurs during the pulses, but most power measurement methods
measure the heating effects of the RF energy to obtain an average value of the power. It is correct to use either
value for reference so long as one or the other is consistently used. Frequently it is necessary to convert from P_{p}
to P_{ave}, or vice versa; therefore the relationship between the two must be understood. Figure 1 shows
the comparison between P_{p} and P_{ave}.
Figure 1. RF Pulse Train
The average value is defined as that level where the pulse area above the average is equal to area below
average between pulses. If the pulses are evened off in such a way as to fill in the area between pulses, the
level obtained is the average value, as shown in Figure 1 where the shaded area of the pulse is used to fill in
the area between pulses. The area of the pulse is the pulse width multiplied by the peak pulse power. The average
area is equal to the average value of power multiplied by the pulse period.
Since the two values are equal: [2] P_{ave}
x T = P_{p} x PW or [3]
P_{ave}/P_{p} = PW/T Using [1] [4]
P_{ave}/P_{p} = PW/T = PW x PRF = PW/PRI = duty cycle (note that the symbol
τ represents pulse width (PW) in most reference books)
The ratio of the average power to the peak pulse power is the duty cycle and represents the percentage of time the
power is present. In the case of a square wave the duty cycle is 0.5 (50%) since the pulses are present 1/2 the
time, the definition of a square wave. For Figure 1, the pulse width is 1 unit of time and the period is
10 units. In this case the duty cycle is: PW/T = 1/10 = 0.1 (10%). A more typical case would be a PRF
of 1,000 and a pulse width of 1.0 microseconds. Using [4], the duty cycle is 0.000001 x 1,000 = 0.001. The RF
power is present onethousandth of the time and the average power is 0.001 times the peak power. Conversely, if
the power were measured with a power meter which responds to average power, the peak power would be 1,000 time the
average reading.
Besides expressing duty cycle as a ratio as obtained in equation [4], it is commonly expressed as either a
percentage or in decibels (dB). To express the duty cycle of equation [4] as a percentage, multiply the value
obtained by 100 and add the percent symbol. Thus a duty cycle of 0.001 is also 0.1%.
The duty cycle can be
expressed logarithmically (dB) so it can be added to or subtracted from power measured in dBm/dBW rather than
converting to, and using absolute units.
[5] Duty cycle (dB) = 10 log(duty cycle
ratio)
For the example of the 0.001 duty cycle, this would be 10 log(0.001) = 30 dB. Thus the average
power would be 30 dB less than the peak power. Conversely, the peak power is 30 dB higher than the average power.
For pulse radars operating in the PRF range of 0.2510 kHz and PD radars operating in the PRF range of 10500
kHz, typical duty cycles would be:
Pulse : 0.1  3% = 0.001  .03 = 30 to 15 dB
Pulse Doppler
: 5  50% = 0.05  .5 = 13 to 3 dB
Continuous Wave : 100% =
1 = 0 dB
Intermediate Frequency Bandwidths of typical signals are:
Pulse 1 to 10 MHz
Chirp or Phase coded pulse 0.1 to 10
MHz
CW or PD 0.1 to 5 kHz
PRF is usually subdivided into the following categories: Low 0.254 kHz; Medium 840 kHz; High 50300 kHz.
Table of Contents
for Electronics Warfare and Radar Engineering Handbook
Introduction 
Abbreviations  Decibel  Duty
Cycle  Doppler Shift  Radar Horizon / Line
of Sight  Propagation Time / Resolution  Modulation
 Transforms / Wavelets  Antenna Introduction
/ Basics  Polarization  Radiation Patterns 
Frequency / Phase Effects of Antennas 
Antenna Near Field  Radiation Hazards 
Power Density  OneWay Radar Equation / RF Propagation
 TwoWay Radar Equation (Monostatic) 
Alternate TwoWay Radar Equation 
TwoWay Radar Equation (Bistatic) 
Jamming to Signal (J/S) Ratio  Constant Power [Saturated] Jamming
 Support Jamming  Radar Cross Section (RCS) 
Emission Control (EMCON)  RF Atmospheric
Absorption / Ducting  Receiver Sensitivity / Noise 
Receiver Types and Characteristics 
General Radar Display Types 
IFF  Identification  Friend or Foe  Receiver
Tests  Signal Sorting Methods and Direction Finding 
Voltage Standing Wave Ratio (VSWR) / Reflection Coefficient / Return
Loss / Mismatch Loss  Microwave Coaxial Connectors 
Power Dividers/Combiner and Directional Couplers 
Attenuators / Filters / DC Blocks 
Terminations / Dummy Loads  Circulators
and Diplexers  Mixers and Frequency Discriminators 
Detectors  Microwave Measurements 
Microwave Waveguides and Coaxial Cable 
ElectroOptics  Laser Safety 
Mach Number and Airspeed vs. Altitude Mach Number 
EMP/ Aircraft Dimensions  Data Busses  RS232 Interface
 RS422 Balanced Voltage Interface  RS485 Interface 
IEEE488 Interface Bus (HPIB/GPIB)  MILSTD1553 &
1773 Data Bus  This HTML version may be printed but not reproduced on websites.
