An airport vehicle identification system includes a ground surveillance radar system which radiates both a conventional radar signal and a beacon interrogation signal. The radar receives i) a backscatter signal from the skin returns of a target and ii) an encoded ID signal indicative of the target identity. The encoded ID signal is transmitted by a vehicle (e.g., an aircraft) mounted transponder in response to receiving the beacon interrogation signal. The transponder can be located within an external vehicle light housing such as an aircraft collision avoidance light. This invention fills the critical void in airport traffic control of providing ground controllers with electronic airport surface surveillance data which includes both vehicle position and identity.