Future Success Requires Lower SWaP for Airborne ISR Systems

Airborne Connectivity

Benefits Expand as Technology Shrinks

As military and commercial operations continue to globalize, the need for highly efficient aircraft systems is steepening a trend in communications technology to meet modern requirements. Providers are rushing to shrink their technology in order to meet Size, Weight and Power specifications for the new and smaller unmanned aircraft barreling their way to market. Another key driver in this development is the growing adoption of helicopters for Beyond Line of Sight (BLoS) Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance (ISR) applications by militaries around the world. According to Allied Market Research, the global aerial imaging market alone is expected to hit $2.8B by 2022with the government sector and North America region expected to be the dominant force behind the growth.

With new applications for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) requiring aircraft to reach new possibilities, the hardware on board today's UAV's must continue to adapt and evolve or risk becoming yesterday's technology. General Atomics Aeronautical Systems are at the forefront of meeting market demands with new UAV platforms. They are a leading provider for UAV's like the new SkyGuardian™ Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) which was designed to operate in civilian airspace. In order to meet the standards for civil airspace, General Atomics needed low-SWaP communications hardware that was highly efficient and flexible enough to deliver different types of data sets required by their customers. Hughes is continuing to push the limits of minimizing hardware SWaP requirements by positioning to meet even tighter demands for UAV's 

When it comes to rotary wing platforms, Line of Sight (LoS) connectivity is able to meet most requirements, however, it ultimately restricts the distance to which the aircraft can operate while transmitting or receiving advanced data like live video. With advancements in satcom technology, new solutions have risen to meet the requirements for these platforms that extend the area of operation by connecting the aircraft Beyond Line of Sight. Given the space and weight restrictions for many rotary platforms, communications hardware has to be compact and light weight so as to not impact mission-critical payloads. New smaller flat panel antennas are available to go with the next generation of low-SWaP modem technology to finally deliver the reliable high-throughput connectivity without interference from the rotating blades. 

As global conflicts continue to escalate in sophistication, it has never been more critical for military organizations to deploy resilient communications systems. Hughes is leveraging enhanced SCMA waveform technology that is not only resilient enough to get through the rapidly spinning rotor blades of a helicopter but also deliver Low Probability of Intercept and Low Probability of Detection (LPI/LPD) features for contested environments.  This becomes a promising outlook when this technology is coupled with the latest generation of high throughput satellites (and soon new LEO constellations) as together they can keep communications flowing safely to better enable mission success.