Flexible & integrated unmanned command & control

Unmanned vehicle technology advances deliver a common operating picture for enhanced decision-making and mission effectiveness.

The use of unmanned vehicles in aerospace and defense applications continues to grow, as militaries the world over seek to reap the benefits of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs), and unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs). The rapid advancement of key enabling technologies has helped to expand not only the use of unmanned vehicles, but also their role in the field.

UAVs continue to be the most dynamic growth sector of the world aerospace industry this decade, according to Teal Group market analysts in Fairfax, Va. Teal Group staff predict UAV spending to more than double over the next decade-from current worldwide UAV expenditures of $5.2 billion annually to $11.6 billion-amounting to more than $89 billion in the next 10 years.

Militaries are demanding not only more, but also more-capable unmanned vehicles and sophisticated command and control (C2) functionality.


Unmanned vehicle operators are amassing a growing list of desired features and characteristics, many of which center on ease of use and the ability to reduce operator workload.

"More sophisticated [unmanned vehicles] 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," says Donald Palmer, chief technology officer at General Micro Systems (GMS) in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif. In addition to sophistication, unmanned vehicle customers seek security.

Unmanned system security is a high priority in aerospace and defense applications. "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 electronics," Palmer says.

"Most prominent and widely debated issues are associated with control compatibility with other UAV ground stations," says Val Zarov, director of program management at Curtiss-Wright Controls Defense Solutions in Ashburn, Va. "From a technology trend perspective, there is a significant movement toward utilization of open-architecture hardware and software. Advances in these areas will enable more generic/open-source ground command-and-control stations while protecting highly sensitive/classified data from unauthorized access."

The Lockheed Martin mobile Ground Control Station (mGCS) serves as the user interface for controlling and monitoring mini and small unmanned vehicle systems.
The Lockheed Martin mobile Ground Control Station (mGCS) serves as the user interface for controlling and monitoring mini and small unmanned vehicle systems.

Communications & security

AAI Corp. in Hunt Valley, Md., and ViaSat Inc. partnered to align AAI's advanced unmanned aircraft and C2 technologies with ViaSat integrated airborne and terrestrial satellite communications, as well as its Internet Protocol-based networking and security technology. AAI and ViaSat will work together to develop and advance beyond-line-of-sight (BLOS) satellite communications capabilities for current and next-generation AAI UAVs.

"The performance and affordability of tactical UAVs like our Shadow system make them an invaluable battlefield asset with a growing mission spectrum," says Steven Reid, senior vice president and general manager of AAI Unmanned Aircraft Systems. "Our private satellite network services can deliver the dedicated bandwidth needed to distribute tactical UAV video throughout the battlespace," says Paul Baca, vice president and general manager for ViaSat Global Mobile Broadband.


Aerospace and defense officials increasingly seek solutions to do more with less, such as operating several unmanned vehicles with one operator and one C2 system. Managing several drones is a unique challenge because each UAV type has proprietary control systems, says Nelson Paez, CEO of DreamHammer in Santa Monica, Calif. DreamHammer's commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) intelligent control device was designed to integrate unrelated unmanned vehicles from different manufacturers into one system.

"Ballista allows government or commercial customers to link together machines from numerous developers performing a variety of tasks," Paez says. "Some unmanned systems take as many as 200 people to manage one drone; Ballista enables one user to manage several drones simultaneously. Until now, there has been no way to tie [UAVs] together. A user who previously required extensive training to manage one drone or robot can now manage several drones or robots simultaneously-all to achieve one task or coordinated mission."

DreamHammer's Ballista COTS software works with all unmanned drones and robots and can be used to link several drones into one master system controlled by one person. Ballista, built on an open software platform, enables the autonomous and simultaneous control of several unmanned vehicles across all domains-space, air, sea, and land-and can be run from virtually any computer, including a tablet or smartphone.

Radisys engineers, working with an aerospace and defense systems integrator, developed a universal ground-control system for UAVs built on 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," says Jeff Sharpe, senior product line manager at Radisys in Hillsboro, Ore. "The integrator decided to develop a universal ground control station (UGCS) to satisfy U.S. joint services requirements, including simultaneous mission control of several unmanned aircraft." The UGCS architecture uses Radisys standards-based ATCA solutions, replicating the capabilities of its rackmount server with one ATCA blade, the Radisys ATCA-4300 compute processing module. Radisys engineers performed platform integration and thermal testing, and the integrator minimized up-front engineering costs by starting with a validated ATCA platform populated with available COTS components.

The MACE 3 unmanned ground vehicle (UGB) from MIRA features a UGV control system with tele-operational and autonomous modes.
The MACE 3 unmanned ground vehicle (UGB) from MIRA features a UGV control system with tele-operational and autonomous modes.

Many missions

The Hermes UGCS from Elbit Systems in Haifa, Israel, can control two concurrent missions when allocated two ground data terminals. Elbit engineers built the Hermes UGCS to enable the control of any type of UAV. 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.

Piaggio Aero Industries in Italy tested complete ground handling control of the company's new Piaggio Aero P.1HH HammerHead multirole UAV and mission management system (MMS) based on Selex ES Sky- ISTAR technology. Selex ES provides the vehicle control and management system (VCMS), the remote-piloting ground control station (GCS), and the UAV datalink and communications systems "to ensure safe operations during all flight activities, throughout the whole chain of UAV command and control," says a representative. "The P.1HH UAV is able to perform command and control and data exploitation for several 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 MMS combines with the VCMS to manage the HammerHead UAV and mission-specific equipment. HammerHead's VCMS, controlled from the GCS via an airborne data-link system, commands the aerodynamic control surfaces and manages on-board equipment with a triple-redundancy Flight Control Computer and several remote Servo Interface Units, designed to achieve a high level of safety and mission reliability.

Common control

This past summer engineers from Lockheed Martin Corp. in Bethesda, Md., monitored and controlled several types of UAVs from one integrated command and control (C2) system during a U.S. Navy demonstration in support of the Unmanned Carrier Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike System (UCLASS) and Common Control System programs.

"Lockheed Martin's system integrated with other Navy C2 and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) planning and execution systems, providing operators with a comprehensive mission picture and enabling the control of unmanned air vehicles and their on-board mission system sensors.

"This demonstration is an important step to fulfilling the Navy's requirement for a Common Control System that leverages several architectures from varied operational systems," says Rob Weiss, executive vice president of Advanced Strike and Intelligence and Reconnaissance Systems for Lockheed Martin Aeronautics. "A combined C2 and ISR capability will be essential as the Navy integrates UAV into its ISR enterprise."

During the demonstration, one operator managed several UAVs simultaneously using an open architecture framework integrated with DreamHammer's Ballista drone control software and Navy-compliant software protocols. The team also used new Navy Cloud capability to demonstrate control of ISR sensors and integrate the data into a complete mission picture, which was used to rapidly re-task and re-route the UAV assets.

The demonstration "underscores the critical role that common command and control systems can play in actual operations by highlighting the ability to enrich the overall ISR picture and increase the speed of decision making," says Jim Quinn, vice president of C4ISR Systems for Lockheed Martin Information Systems and Global Solutions. "An integrated battlespace picture emerges when we link the platforms, sensors, and information collected into one enterprise view that will enable the U.S. Navy to better achieve their C2 and ISR missions."

The Mobile Ground Control Station (MGCS) from General Atomics is a UAS control center, enclosed in a either a 24-foot shelter or 30-foot trailer, used to control one GA-ASI aircraft.
The Mobile Ground Control Station (MGCS) from General Atomics is a UAS control center, enclosed in a either a 24-foot shelter or 30-foot trailer, used to control one GA-ASI aircraft.

One for all

Lockheed Martin's Universal Ground Control Station (UGCS), an extension of the One System Ground Station (OSGCS) concept, enables interoperability of the U.S. Army's unmanned assets of dissimilar types from one common ground control station. It houses flight-critical hardware and software in a modular configuration.

VCS-4586 software, installed in every UGCS and in OSGCS shelters, is used to command and control the MQ-1C Gray Eagle, RQ-7B Shadow, MQ-5B Hunter, and LEMV Airship for the U.S. Army. Lockheed Martin CDL Systems' open, standards-based, and COTS software has been integrated into various unmanned vehicle platforms and designed on low-cost, interoperable, and open-architecture systems.

AAI's Expeditionary Ground Control Station (EGCS) delivers command and control capabilities in a small, modular configuration that includes ruggedized workstations for the aircraft and payload operators, as well as a remote interface box and miniature ground data terminal.

Man-portable, net-centric, and built on a scalable, open architecture, AAI's EGCS enables several unmanned platforms to be employed simultaneously and provides on-the-move C2 capabilities for mission flexibility. Customers include the U.S. Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps.

Flexible & functional

Lockheed Martin Vehicle Control Station (VCS) software is helping control UAVs, UGVs, high-speed air and sea target-drones, and loiter munitions in a variety of roles. An integrated command, control, and information system for operating and monitoring unmanned vehicle systems, VCS supports the operation of several vehicles, sensors, payloads, data links, and other subsystems from as few as one operator workstation.

VCS provides increased autonomy by automatically managing basic piloting tasks. The automation of flight tasks enables operators to focus on their main objective: the mission, says a company representative.

VCS is built on an open-architecture framework and is hardware and operating system agnostic. VCS-4586's interactive map combines insight from real-time, geo-referenced positioning and directional information of all operational components, such as vehicles, sensors, payloads, data links, and other vehicle systems.

Air, land, and sea

Engineers at Micro Systems Inc. in Fort Walton Beach, Fla., designed the company's Unmanned Vehicle Command and Control (C2) Systems to be flexible and expandable, making them well suited for ground vehicles, sea surface vehicles, aerial target drones, and UAVs.

"We have fielded command and control systems that have been supporting missions for the U.S. Navy (System for Naval Target Control), U.S. Army (Target Tracking Control System/UHF or TTCSU), and several international defense organizations worldwide," says a representative. "Every command and control system we offer is readily adapted to a variety of unmanned vehicle applications and we offer a wide array of system configurations that include different form factors (i.e., portable or fixed site), number and type of controlled vehicles, and RF data links."

Micro Systems solutions can be configured to control as many as eight air vehicles and 16 sea surface and ground vehicles, with a simultaneous mix of vehicle types, as well as field expanded with no change to system software (plug and play).

"Our command and control systems are vehicle and data link independent, capable of controlling a mix of vehicles on several independent data links simultaneously," the representative adds. Systems are available with a variety of data link options, including: UHF FM, L-Band Direct Sequence Spread Spectrum (DSSS), 2.4-gigahertz ISM, Iridium Satellite (satellite to satellite or gateway to satellite), and custom data links.

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Mil & Aero Magazine

February 2014
Volume 25, Issue 2

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