Improving SAR Automatic Target Recognition Models with Transfer Learning from Simulated Data

David Malmgren-Hansen, Anders Kusk, Jørgen Dall, Allan Aasbjerg Nielsen, Rasmus Engholm, Henning Skriver

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Data-driven classification algorithms have proved to do well for automatic target recognition (ATR) in synthetic aperture radar (SAR) data. Collecting data sets suitable for these algorithms is a challenge in itself as it is difficult and expensive. Due to the lack of labeled data sets with real SAR images of sufficient size, simulated data play a big role in SAR ATR development, but the transferability of knowledge learned on simulated data to real data remains to be studied further. In this letter, we show the first study of Transfer Learning between a simulated data set and a set of real SAR images. The simulated data set is obtained by adding a simulated object radar reflectivity to a terrain model of individual point scatters, prior to focusing. Our results show that a Convolutional Neural Network (Convnet) pretrained on simulated data has a great advantage over a Convnet trained only on real data, especially when real data are sparse. The advantages of pretraining the models on simulated data show both in terms of faster convergence during the training phase and on the end accuracy when benchmarked on the Moving and Stationary Target Acquisition and Recognition data set. These results encourage SAR ATR development to continue the improvement of simulated data sets of greater size and complex scenarios in order to build robust algorithms for real life SAR ATR applications.
Original languageEnglish
JournalIEEE Geoscience and Remote Sensing Letters
Issue number9
Pages (from-to)1484-8
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • Convolutional Neural Networks
  • Transfer Learning
  • SAR Image Simulation


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