Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) like the MQ-1 Predator have excelled in the theaters of war in which they have been deployed. However, the ability of those controlling the UAV to conceive of new missions for the Predator and other deployed UAVs in the field has led to the U.S. Air Force recognition that the fundamental architectural approach to development of complete Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UASs), including ground stations and other elements, has to put integration capability front and center as a key design issue.

Meeting Next-Generation Requirements

Raytheon has massively simplified the complex mission environment from a system designer’s perspective and eliminated the “stovepipe system” problem that the DoD identified as a significant bottleneck for future UAS deployments.

UASs will find themselves deployed in multi-mission situations where they have to seamlessly integrate their capability with a networked environment potentially comprising other UASs, ground/ sea systems, manned aircraft, and ground troops.

Simply stated, the challenge is that UAS designers will not know at the outset what new re-configuration components will be requested of their UAS platform, nor what missions the UAS will be required to perform over the course of its lifetime. In defense deployments, adaptability is key, as those using the UAS assets seek to meet an ever-changing and unpredictable battle environment. Whereas manned systems had adaptability built-in with the man in the loop, UASs have to have this adaptability built-in by initial design.

These initial design requirements will mandate physical constraints such as size, weight, payload, etc. of the UAS. But once deployed, the end users will conceive of all sorts of new payload requirements that were not anticipated at design time, as was seen with the deployment of the MQ-1 Predator. While meeting this requirement is somewhat achievable with a well-designed UAV internal network, the real challenge is that the UAV (most commonly used as a sensor platform) will also need to share its information and capabilities not just with its Ground Control Station (GCS), but directly with systems that have as yet not been conceived or deployed.

Today, the assumption is that the information flows down from the UAV to its own GCS, but in the future, it will need to integrate into UAV swarms or with other battlefield assets, sharing its information and perhaps utilizing information from these other assets to better perform its own mission. Any end-point must be able to communicate to any other end-point and meet the real-time needs of that specific communication channel, even when it runs over a combination of internal busses and RF or other long-range communication mechanisms. An end-point is not just the UAV or the GCS. It could be a configurable payload component of another battlefield asset; for example, a UAV infrared module providing target information for a manned aircraft or ground-based missile system.