July 11, 2013
Aerospace and defense oranizations advance unmanned avionics to amplify system safety, security, efficiency, and interoperability.
The unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) for years has been a focal point of the aerospace and defense community, as well as a bright spot in an otherwise bleak economic picture. The impressive growth and advancement of unmanned technologies show few signs of slowing, as militaries worldwide continue to adopt and adapt unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) for a variety of missions.
The role of UAVs continues to expand, as aerospace and defense technology firms enhance the capabilities of unmanned vehicle, system, and payload electronics. The focus of military organizations the world over, especially in times of economic pressure, is on operational efficiency. As is the case today with manned military aircraft, UAVs can no longer assume just one role or function; rather, militaries increasingly require multi-role systems.
The focus is on interoperability and re-use, explains Chip Downing, senior director of aerospace & defense at Wind River Systems in Alameda, Calif. “Next-generation systems will need to prove they have a systems architecture that can rapidly integrate a wide range of capabilities from a vast ecosystem of hardware and software suppliers.
“Static, single-source capabilities will quickly be replaced by platforms that can rapidly morph into the chal- lenge of the hour,” Downing adds. “The excellent work by the Future Airborne Capability Environment (FACE) and the Unmanned Control Segment (UCS) teams will drive and accelerate this platform expansion.”
|Image courtesy Northrop Grumman|
Drones no more
“Some early UAVs are called drones because they are no more sophisticated than a simple, radio-controlled aircraft being controlled by a human pilot (or operator) at all times,” says Donald Palmer, chief technology officer, General Micro Systems (GMS) in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif. “More sophisticated versions have built-in control and/or guidance systems to perform low-level human pilot duties, such as speed and flight path surveillance, and simple pre-scripted navigation functions such as convoy and warfighter tracking.”
Unmanned aerial vehicles and systems continue to grow in sophistication and complexity, spurring the aerospace and defense community to increasingly abandon use of the term “drone”-which often carries negative connotations. Yet, infusing compact UAVs with advanced, capable electronics, and the necessary power and thermal management systems, is no mean feat.
UAVs present some of the most difficult design challenges, Palmer says. “It is because of the need to package a high level of computing power and data collection/distribution components within minimal size, weight, and power (SWaP) constraints-all while preserving ruggedized capabilities to operate in very demanding environments.”
GMS electronics systems have been deployed in no less than four UAV models, in the UAV itself or as part of the ground station. “Command and secure communication is the major theme in the deployment of these products,” Palmer reveals. “The GMS S802 (Golden Eye II) and GMS S902 (Golden Eye III) have been selected as high-performance computing platforms for UAVs. These lightweight, rugged systems are designed from the ground up to perform in the harsh environments that UAVs operate.”
UAV engineers must also ascribe a high priority to security, Palmer says. “Secure communication links are vital for UAV operation, both to control the UAV based on mission objectives and to deliver data reliably to mission controllers on the ground. Encryption and decryption are inherent requirements, adding complexity and cost in the UAV electronics.”
Onboard data processing
Advanced UAV sensor payloads are acquiring a wealth of data, including full-motion video (FMV) and high-definition (HD) images. Bandwidth is often limited, however, and can prevent the transmission, sharing, and display of mission-critical information. Such network limitations are driving the need for efficient data processing directly on the UAV.
Militaries and technology firms worldwide are focused on: the ability to do as much autonomous onboard processing as possible and to reduce the volume of data exchanged between the UAV and ground station, says Michael Carter, chief executive officer of Sabtech Industries in Yorba Linda, Calif. The goal, he adds, is to exchange processed information instead of a raw data stream.
“Per the recent Office of Naval Research (ONR) Navigation Sensor Fusion solicitation, the challenge was for precision landing on a pitching deck with low/zero visibility (night, weather) with no electronic emissions so as to avoid detection,” Carter says. “It required highly accurate fusion of data from multiple sensors (optical, infrared, lidar) in real time.
“While it did not specify that the data had to be crunched onboard the UAV, the only way it could be done while meeting all the objectives would be to do it autonomously onboard the UAV itself,” Carter continues. “It requires high-performance, low-power, low-weight processors and sensors that are scalable for the vehicle payload size.”
Sabtech is working with an un- named UAV manufacturer on an avionics system that can provide data input/output (I/O) interfaces for RS-232, 422, 1553, STANAG, and other outputs for various on-board sensors converted to Ethernet for processing on a high-performance single-board computer with a field-programmable gate array (FPGA) that will perform configurable operations.
|The Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Block 10 Global Hawk UAV surveillance aircraft employs high-resolution synthetic aperture radar (SAR) and long-range electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) sensors with long loiter times over target areas.|
“The key to the future of drones and robots will be their ability to work together,” predicts Nelson Paez, CEO of DreamHammer in Santa Monica, Calif. Aerospace and defense firms are working to deliver enabling technologies to facilitate integrated operations, such as swarms or tiered systems of UAVs, whereby various aircraft systems work together in a coordinated effort to support the warfighters on the ground.
DreamHammer has unveiled a commercial off-the-shelf (COTS)-based, intelligent control platform that integrates unrelated unmanned vehicles from different manufacturers into a single system. Managing multiple drones is a unique challenge, given that each UAV type has proprietary control systems.
“In the past, anyone wanting a unified system had to develop the actual drone hardware. Ballista allows government or commercial customers to link together machines from numerous developers performing a variety of tasks,” Paez describes. “Some unmanned systems take as many as 200 people to manage a single drone, much more resources than manned vehicles. Ballista allows a single user to manage multiple drones simultaneously.
“Until now, there has been no way to tie [UAVs] together,” Paez says. “A user who previously required extensive training to manage one drone or robot can now manage multiple drones or robots simultaneously-all to achieve a single task or coordinated mission.”
DreamHammer’s Ballista COTS software is designed to military and safety-critical standards, works with all unmanned drones and robots, and can be used to link multiple drones into one master system, all controlled by one person. Ballista is built on an open software platform which allows for autonomous and simultaneous control of multiple unmanned vehicles across all domains-space, air, sea, and land-and can be run from virtually any computer, including a tablet or smartphone.
Elbit Systems Ltd. in Haifa, Israel, unveiled its Hermes Universal Ground Control Station (UGCS), capable of controlling two concurrent missions when allocated two ground data terminals. Elbit’s UGCS is built to enable the control of any type of UAV, providing mission debriefing and simulation as well as in-flight mission editing and payload control. The UGCS system includes: a ground data terminal, a remote video terminal, and a flight line tester/loader.
The UGCS features side-by-side identical and redundant operator consoles with ruggedized COTS hardware and commercial software tools for mission planning, management, and control. Built-in data exploitation and dissemination and an advanced system concept enable single-operator ground control station use. In fact, Elbit UAVs, such as the Hermes 450 UAS, are equipped with an autonomous Auto Takeoff and Landing (ATOL) system for auto-landing and advanced digital communication systems for transmitting data in real time to ground stations.
Engineers at Piaggio Aero Industries in Italy have completed testing of the autonomous engine control capability, normal and auto brake features, and complete ground handling control of the company’s new Piaggio Aero P.1HH HammerHead, a multi-role unmanned aerial system (UAS).
The P.1HH HammerHead UAS mission management system (MMS), based on Selex ES SkyISTAR technology, is designed to be modular and flexible to enable a wide selection of payloads to be integrated and aligned with customers’ concept of operations (CONOPS). “The P.1HH mission management system is fit for a multi-role UAS, allowing the HammerHead to perform missions including but not limited to wide-area territorial and aerial surveillance, maritime patrol, environmental monitoring, and electronic warfare,” says a Piaggio Aero Industries spokesperson.
Selex ES provides the vehicle control and management system (VCMS), the remote-piloting ground control station (GCS), and the UAS datalink and communications systems “to ensure safe operations during all flight activities, throughout the whole chain of UAS command and control,” the spokesperson adds. “Due to the high level of functionality and multiple redundancies, the P.1HH UAS is able to perform command and control and data exploitation for multiple UAVs, operations in line-of-sight (LOS) and beyond-line-of-sight (BLOS) conditions, and flexible asset usage for the pilots and ground crew.”
The advanced MMS combines with the VCMS to manage the HammerHead UAS and its mission-specific equipment. HammerHead’s VCMS, controlled from the GCS via an airborne data-link system, commands the aerodynamic control surfaces and manages the on-board equipment with a triple-redundancy Flight Control Computer and multiple remote Servo Interface Units (SIUs), designed to achieve a high level of safety and mission reliability. The VCMS also features an ATOL system offering dual redundancy external sensors for reliability and safety.
|The MQ-4C Triton UAV, a maritime version of the Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk, is in development for maritime patrol, surveillance, and anti-submarine warfare applications.|
Control compatibility & data drowning
A number of challenges exist in a rapidly growing UAV secure command, control, and communications area, admits Val Zarov, director of program management at Curtiss-Wright Controls Defense Solutions in Ashburn, Va. “Most prominent and widely debated issues are associated with control compatibility with other UAS ground stations, ability for UAV to directly communicate with various ground and air support in the area (regardless to which UAS architecture they belong), secure down-link bandwidth limitation as more UAVs are streaming data at the same time and at a higher throughput, and timely availability of relevant, post-processed data.
“From a technology trend perspective, there is a significant movement toward a Data Guard/Cross Domain technology and utilization of open architecture hardware and software (OS, BSP, drivers, applications),” Zarov describes. “Advances in these areas will enable more generic/open-source ground command-and-control stations while protecting highly sensitive/classified data from unauthorized access.”
One of the major challenges in the software application area that’s deployed in the ground segment is the critical and proprietary element that requires third-party licensing, Zarov says. “That, in itself, is a challenge especially when UAS can be deployed and established in any geographical location and in many cases undisclosed. It creates an issue with proper licensing, support, and availability. Use of open-source software solves this issue, but not unless streaming hardware/data is originated/packaged in a UAV by a special application that is readily compatible with its open-source receiving application counterpart. But that’s not the end of a challenge: UAV hardware must be smart enough to segregate relevant and authorized sections of the data before it gets sent to an open-source ground segment in order to protect classified sections of gathered data.”
All leading indicators of the technology trends are pointing toward a highly networked UAS infrastructure that will enable any UAV (small, medium, or large) to exist on the network, stream relevant data (not raw data), and be able to accommodate multiple securing enclaves for control and data transfer, Zarov affirms. “On the ground segment front, the trends indicate specialization for control and gathering of highly sensitive data along with the ability to support wider variety of UAVs and more at the same time. Other and current uses for the ground segment, such as data processing, imagery extraction of the non-sensitive data, and basic control, most likely will be scaled down to an Apple iPhone or Google Android app and available as an authorized access subscription to enabled end users. Most of the intelligence in image/data post-processing and relevant feature extraction will be preprogrammed by the user and only relevant end results will be streamed down for bandwidth conservation and timely reaction by the user.
“It is a huge topic that has branches into various areas that deal with commonality with various platforms, multi-user authorization with different access levels depending on the agency, and wider expansion of the visible grid created by a system of UAVs and perhaps tying in other visual infrastructures (such as traffic/city cameras) to create a very efficient and sophisticated communication infrastructure that will enhance overall surveillance experience without raw data drowning,” Zarov says. “Data drowning is a serious issue; there is more and more data to process and not enough trained personal. Raw data loads our existing communication infrastructure and becomes perishable if timely processing isn’t done. It results in higher costs to build, expand, and maintain heavy bandwidth demand links and support hardware, along with tremendous storage to keep the data.”
Advanced ground control
Various aerospace and defense industry firms are focusing on human- machine interface (HMI) solutions for UAV applications. The end goals of these innovative HMIs are often streamlined operator training and reduced pilot workload.
Computer tablets and other handheld systems are quickly becoming the HMIs of preference for unmanned vehicle command and control. UAV applications are moving away from laptop computers and joysticks in favor of tablet computers, “mostly because of portability and there’s no keyboard to break, no parts to get damaged,” says Jim Plas, vice president of marketing at Xplore Technologies in Austin, Texas. An Xplore C5 rugged tablet accompanies every Aeryon Scout UAV from Aeryon Labs Inc. in Waterloo, Canada, for use as a more modern control pad than the traditional joystick.
|The Northrop Grumman MQ-4C Triton UAV is under development and expected to enter service in 2015 as a surveillance aircraft under the U.S. Navy Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) program.|
“Over the last year, we have seen next-generation experimental aircraft, like the Northrop Grumman X-47B and the Dassault nEUROn unmanned combat air system (UCAS) platforms, make huge advances in unmanned operations,” Downing says. The X-47B and nEUROn unmanned systems employ Wind River’s VxWorks real-time operating system (RTOS). Wind River’s RTOS platforms “with COTS certification evidence have enabled a new systems methodology for airborne systems. We see that success story duplicated and expanded in the unmanned space, where new programs are coming on line at a far faster rate than in manned systems.”
The X-47B Control Display Unit (CDU) is a new handheld gadget, developed by Northrop Grumman and U.S. Navy engineers, enabling deck operators to maneuver the unmanned aircraft wirelessly, using a handheld remote control, around the crowded deck of an aircraft carrier. Northrop Grumman is the Navy’s prime contractor for the UCAS Carrier Demonstration (UCAS-D) program. The UCAS-D industry team includes GKN Aerospace, Lockheed Martin, Pratt & Whitney, Eaton, General Electric, UTC Aerospace Systems, Dell, Honeywell, Moog, Wind River, Parker Aerospace, and Rockwell Collins.
The team demonstrated the CDU’s ability to control the X-47B’s engine thrust; to roll the aircraft forward, brake, and stop; to use its nose wheel steering to execute tight, precision turns; and to maneuver the aircraft efficiently into a catapult or out of the landing area following a mock carrier landing.
“The CDU is fundamental to integrating the X-47B seamlessly into carrier deck operations,” says Daryl Martis, Northrop Grumman’s UCAS-D test director. “It will allow us to move the aircraft quickly and precisely into the catapult for launch, or out of the landing area following recovery. Both of these activities are essential to maintaining the rhythm of the flight deck.”
In practice, a deck operator works in tandem with the flight deck director to move the X-47B via the CDU to a designated flight deck location. Standing in front of the aircraft, the director uses traditional hand signals to indicate how, when, and where the aircraft should move, the same way he would communicate with a pilot in a manned aircraft. The deck operator stands behind the director and uses the CDU to duplicate the director’s instructions as digital commands to the aircraft.
“Instead of towing the aircraft out to the flight line, we can now start the X-47B outside its hangar, and use the CDU to taxi it out to the runway or into a catapult for launch,” Martis adds. “Use of the CDU is the most time-efficient way to move the X-47B into the catapult or disengage it from the arresting gear after landing.”
The X-47B deck handling trials aboard the aircraft carrier USS Harry S Truman used Tactical Targeting Network Technology (TTNT) from Rockwell Collins. A complement to existing tactical data link networks, TTNT provides high-data-rate, long-range communication links for airborne platforms; enables rapid, low-latency message delivery; and requires minimal network planning requirements, permitting participants to enter and exit the network without extensive preplanning.
“TTNT is part of the overall command and control architecture for the X-47B, and it plays an essential role in helping the aircraft perform vital functions,” explains Bob Haag, vice president and general manager of communication and navigation products for Rockwell Collins. TTNT has been used in demonstrations of various aircraft platforms, including the F-16, F-22, F-15, F/A-18, B-2, B-52, Airborne Warning and Control System, Battlefield Airborne Communications Node, and E-2C Hawkeye.
Communication is key in UAV applications. Modern solutions enable constant communications between the UAV and ground control station, as well as provide a datalink for transmitting UAV-captured information, including image and video files. UAVs are also starting to deliver critical communications at the edge of the battlefield, helping deploy Long-Term Evolution (LTE) networks in even remote locations.
“In today’s battlespace, commercial communications technology is now crucial to military success. Combat soldiers need to understand surrounding situations and react quickly to have an advantage over the enemy,” describes Jeff Sharpe, senior product line manager, Radisys Corp. in Hillsboro, Ore. “Today’s military must leverage the success of the latest in commercial communications technologies to deliver the hardware and software for a complete LTE network.
“LTE delivers higher speeds and lower latency than competing technologies, including the recently terminated Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS),” Sharpe continues. “LTE’s combination of superior mobile bandwidth and low latency enables the delivery of real-time, two-way mobile video communications. This fatter LTE pipe also means that UAVs are able to collect immense volumes of data, with LTE delivering the necessary throughput between ground control and the UAV.”
Radisys engineers, working with an unnamed aerospace and defense systems integrator, developed a universal ground control system for UAVs built on The Radisys ATCA technology. “Until recently, every type of unmanned aircraft had a specialized ground control station, as well as a unique version for each military branch, resulting in a proliferation of single-purpose equipment,” Sharpe says. “The integrator decided to develop a UGCS to satisfy U.S. joint services requirements, including simultaneous mission control of multiple unmanned aircraft. To meet these requirements, they needed to deploy COTS hardware for greater scalability, higher availability, and voltage supply compatibility.”
The integrator chose to leverage Radisys standards-based ATCA solutions for its UGCS architecture, replicating the capabilities of its rackmount server with a single ATCA blade-the Radisys ATCA-4300 compute processing module, Sharpe explains. Radisys engineers performed platform integration and thermal testing, and the integrator was able to minimize up-front engineering costs by starting with a validated ATCA platform populated with available COTS components.
“In addition, the all-IP LTE network is standards-based, allowing the military to take advantage of a large ecosystem of vendors,” Sharpe says. “The industry can leverage industry-standard form factors such as ATCA and COM Express to deploy LTE, and can take advantage of the strong ecosystem of vendors-resulting in greater parts availability, competitive pricing, and interoperability. These readily available COTS solutions help speed time to market, are easier to maintain, and offer extended system longevity.
“Systems designers and integrators should look to leverage standards-based technology for UAVs,” Sharpe advises. “The aerospace and defense industry is increasingly turning to COTS technologies over proprietary, one-off, government-unique systems that are expensive to build and difficult to maintain. COTS communications technologies, particularly the LTE standards-based architecture, are mature, proven to be reliable and robust, easily deployed, and scalable. The future for UAV command, control, and communications is battlespace-ready LTE.”
Safety & security
Aerospace and defense technology firms are working diligently to ad- vance UAV command, control, and communications technologies and deliver ever more capable unmanned solutions in the hands of awaiting warfighters in the field. Yet, several challenges still exist.
“One of the challenges that must be addressed is the real-time processing and analyzing of data to be used by soldiers in the field,” Sharpe says. “The delivery of more processing power is a requirement. Security is another challenge associated with UAV technology as, in general, Wi-Fi encryption schemes can be fairly easily hacked. The trend to deploy LTE helps overcome these challenges, as LTE security is much harder to attack from the radio signal down to the base station.”
“The rapid growth of the drone market is taking place without proper consideration of information security, leaving these powerful devices subject to hacking and potential compromise and data loss,” Palmer says.
“Next-generation unmanned systems will need to have a proven foundation in safety and security,” Downing explains. “The days of only flying in military operations areas (MOAs) and in war zones are over-all future growth will be in flying over the Earth to protect and enhance our commercial security and personal lifestyle. To do this safely, we will need to build unmanned systems from the ground up that can readily achieve FAA/EASA RTCA DO-178C and EUROCAE ED-12C certification. In addition, there will need to be a secure framework built into these systems that not only secures the device, but also the entire aircraft and its complete, end-to-end control environment.”
The last decade has spent a considerable amount of effort on design and building UAV systems; the challenge of the next decade will be the integration, provisioning, and management of these systems into our national airspaces, our work, and our personal lives, Downing explains. “The companies that can build standards-based systems that have inherent safety and security foundations will harvest highest rewards in the unmanned systems industry.
“We now have an industrial base that is full of hardened military experience with UAVs, and a large appetite for using unmanned systems in a wide range of commercial applications,” Downing notes. “Our industry now understands that the era of large defense unmanned procurements are winding down, and that the winners of the commercial utility market will need truly robust and stable systems that intelligently integrate safety, security, re-usability, and autonomy.
“We are entering an era of massive growth and adoption of autonomous devices that enhance our lives every day-the operation of these devices will require a massive set of sensing and analytic systems to maintain mission safety and security,” Downing adds. “The lessons learned in the wide range of military unmanned systems over the last decade have positioned this industry to expand into commercial operations with relative ease. This transition will be enhanced and accelerated by leveraging existing standards like FACE, UAV Control Systems (UCS), and the NATO Standard Agreement (STANAG) 4586 to enable a development focus on expanded capability.”
Downing looks forward to the commercial side of the industry leading greater adoption and deployment of platforms designed for more comprehensive safety, security, re-usability, and autonomy. “As these breakthroughs are achieved, we will see continued expansion in the unmanned industry. These autonomous devices will rival the mobile phone in both numbers and utility.”
UAV spending to double over next decade
UAVs continue as the most dynamic growth sector of the world aerospace industry this decade, analysts at the Teal Group, an aerospace and defense market analysis firm in Fairfax, Va., affirmed at the Paris Air Show last month. In fact, the firm’s 2013 market study estimates that UAV spending will more than double over the next decade from current worldwide UAV expenditures of $5.2 billion annually to $11.6 billion, totaling more than $89 billion in the next 10 years.
“The UAV market is evolving; it is becoming an increasingly international market as it grows,” describes Philip Finnegan, Teal Group’s director of corporate analysis and an author of the study. “UAVs proved their value in Iraq and Afghanistan and are being sought by a growing number of militaries worldwide.”
|U.S. Navy selects GE Intelligent Platforms rugged Ethernet switches for MQ-8 Fire Scout unmanned helicopters. Turn to pg. 32 for the specifics.|
The U.S. will account for 65 percent of the worldwide RDT&E spending on UAV technology over the next decade, and 51 percent of the procurement, adds Teal Group Senior Analyst Steve Zaloga, who also authored the study.
The UAV payloads segment, valued at $2.3 billion in fiscal year 2013, is forecast to increase to $4.6 billion in fiscal year 2022. The tenth edition of the sector study, titled “World Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Systems, Market Profile and Forecast 2013,” provides 10-year funding and production forecasts for a wide range of UAV payloads, including: electro-optic/infrared sensors (EO/IR); synthetic aperture radars (SARs); signals intelligence (SIGINT) and electronic warfare (EW) systems; command, control, communications, computers, and intelligence (C4I) systems; and chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) sensors.
The UAV electronics market will grow steadily, with the fastest growth and opportunities in SAR and SIGINT/EW, reveals Dr. David Rockwell, the third author of the new Teal Group study. “Few now question that ISR has been the centerpiece of our global war on terrorism,” he says, “but a pivot to Asia and potential future operations in anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) environments will lead to a need for longer-range and stealthy sensors for a variety of new and legacy UAV platforms.”