Research and development in satellite and radio communications, as well as some innovation in the way they are procured, could go a long way in boosting both the capability and the lifecycle costs of unmanned platforms in the future, according to the Unmanned Systems Integrated Roadmap recently released by the Defense Department.
In looking for ways to keep costs down for an entire fleet of unmanned systems, rather than pinpointing savings in specific programs, the report notes that an increase in unmanned systems operations would exacerbate the challenge of the “availability of communication links, the amount of data that the communication links support, certification of the communication spectrum, and the resilience of all radio frequency (RF) subsystems against interference.”
“Operational lessons learned, detailed analytical studies, after action reviews, [Joint Urgent Operational Needs], and combat mission need statements over the past 10 years of global combat operations have repeatedly shown [command, control, communications and computers] infrastructure shortfalls in our ability to support unmanned platforms,” the report continues, noting that the majority of the current unmanned infrastructure is focused in the Middle East and unable to support operations in other areas of the world. DoD has responded by procuring much of its satellite communication bandwidth through commercial leases, the report states, resulting in high overhead costs and proprietary solutions that do not always accommodate all unmanned platforms.
“In short, the current unmanned systems communication infrastructure is prone to wasteful redundancy of efforts, lacks interoperability, and inhibits the distribution of system data to potential consumers,” according to the report.
Among the recommendations is procuring all commercial satellite communication (COMSATCOM) leases together across all unmanned systems and military branches. The Defense Information Systems Agency, using the Future COMSATCOM Services Acquisition (FCSA) contract structure, would manage those leases. The report also recommends that DoD pursue alternatives to annual contracts, allowing for increased buying power as well as perhaps a lower bandwidth requirement when compared to the aggregate bandwidth requirements of each individual unmanned system.
The report also suggests that DoD should expand upon the work it did to create a relay system to support high-volume sensor traffic for unmanned systems in the Middle East. “To provide support for operations outside the Afghanistan area of operation and to ensure this capability is available at the start of a contingency operation, DoD might consider a designated lead agent to manage and develop future relay systems,” according to the report. “The lead agent could leverage existing radio systems wherever possible. For example, linking state-of-the-art transceivers used for [line-of-sight] transmission of [full-motion video] and [command and control] data with two-way Global Broadcast Service (GBS) systems can provide a standard relay component for the unmanned systems architecture.”