Paul Cannon, OBE, FREng, FURSI, FIET, MAGU


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PhD projects

Current personal research is currently addressing the effects of the ionosphere on space based radars and mitigation strategies (Birmingham University).

1980 …2022

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Personal profile


Prof Paul Cannon is both a physicist and an electronic engineer who works at the interface of the two disciplines. He is an academic with considerable experience of working in government research laboratories and in industry. 

Paul has held many leadership roles in addition to his research into the physics of the ionosphere, its effects on radio systems and space weather. He has served as QinetiQ Senior Fellow, QinetiQ Chief Scientist (Communications Division) and as the QinetiQ University-Partnerships Director. He was Director of the Poynting Institute at University of Birmingham, Editor-in-Chief of the journal, Radio Science and was President of the International Union of Radio Science (URSI). Paul has served on Government committees and provides consultancy to a number of organisations.

He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering in 2003 and appointed to the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 2014.

Paul has worked at the intersection of research and industry for more than 30 years and in his role as the Director of the Poynting Institute at the University of Birmingham he led a partnership between industry and academia dealing with autonomy (air, land and space vehicles) and space science and engineering. 

He is a leading figure in radio science and systems, being interested in a wide range of radio propagation, radio environment and space science problems and how they impact communications, radar and navigation systems. He has made numerous personal and team leadership contributions to mitigating the impact of the environment on radio systems.

Paul initiated the UK Ministry of Defence (MOD) ionospheric space weather programme in 1986 and he led and nurtured it for over 25 years. This he did both as a civil servant within the MOD and, on behalf of the MOD whilst working both in QinetiQ. During this period, he moved military space weather R&D from a Cinderella topic to a core technology with an articulated military requirement. Much of this was achieved with the benefit of bilateral and multi-lateral arrangements which he facilitated with the US DoD and other nations thereby providing substantial benefit to the UK.

Paul has published many scientific papers including those addressing ionospheric modification, meteor scatter communications, HF communications and radars, space radars and ionosondes. In addition, he is the author of many classified reports and a number of book chapters. Paul initiated and led the Canadian-Norwegian-Swedish-UK project (DAMSON) which defined the requirements for the robust military HF modem, STANAG 4415, now used throughout NATO. His team at QinetiQ developed and transitioned a new generation of real-time (assimilative) ionospheric models from laboratory to the user. His team also participated in ionospheric modification rocket experiments as part of a UK-US collaboration which he initiated. At the University of Birmingham, he and his team have conducted seminal measurements and have built models to describe the impact of the ionosphere on space radars. 

Paul has served on the UK Cabinet Office, Space Weather Project Board, has been an expert witness to the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee and has supported the Prime Minister’s Committee on Science and Technology.


As of July 2018.

Prof. of Radio Science and Systems, University of Birmingham, UK.

Immediate Past President, the International Union of Radio Science (URSI).

Research interests

After early periods in the universities and in the satellite communications industry I was appointed to the Ministry of Defence (MOD) Royal Aircraft Establishment (Laboratory) where I was rapidly promoted and offered a “fast track” career in London.  I declined this opportunity preferring a technical career. My early work on meteor burst communications (MBC) was significant in that I was the first to identify a signal loss mechanism due to signal polarisation rotation by the ionosphere, in the upper atmosphere. This, and subsequent work on the use of phased arrays, facilitated MBC systems operating with significantly enhanced data rates. These early successes convinced me that important radio engineering advances could be made via a detailed understanding of both the radio propagation and the atmospheric environment through which those signals propagate. Around this time (1989) I was invited to work on sabbatical at the University of Massachusetts. 

Subsequent R&D resulted in the development of new and novel instrumentation to measure the ionosphere, new fast analytic ray tracing techniques and non-linear dynamical modelling to forecast the ionosphere. These many initiatives have provided innovative solutions to problems in high frequency (HF) systems. Of particular note was the pioneering work and my leadership (technical and managerial) of the international DAMSON programme (1993-2000) to measure and understand the HF communications propagation channel. This work, carried out by a team of ~10 persons in Sweden, Norway, Canada and the UK was carried out in cooperation with the major communications modem manufacturers. NATO’s robust HF modems are based on the results of this work. 

Until 2013 I led the QinetiQ team delivering new techniques to support the design of innovative new sensors based around space radars, over-the-horizon-radar and other surveillance systems. This included formal assimilation of measured data into models and ionospheric scintillation measurements and modelling using phase screen approaches. During this time, I was the first to measure the trans-ionospheric impulse response which I did using a major radar facility located in the Marshall Islands. This period has included investigations of the practical effects of climate change on the ionosphere. During this period I also undertook, in partnership with colleagues in the USA, artificial ionospheric modification measurements by launching sounding rockets into the upper atmosphere.

Recent personal research has addressed the effects of the ionosphere on space-based radars and associated mitigation strategies.

I have published extensively in journals (including Nature) and at conferences. I have provided keynote addresses, published major reviews and have contributed to books on radio propagation, the radio environment and communication systems. These are in addition to internal reports at QinetiQ. 

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 13 - Climate Action

External positions

Defence Scientific Advisory Committee

1 Oct 201430 Jun 2017

International Union of Radio Science

1 Sep 201431 Aug 2017


  • QC Physics
  • ionosphere
  • propagation
  • space environment
  • TK Electrical engineering. Electronics Nuclear engineering
  • ionosphere
  • propagation
  • space environment


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