As the military has moved toward network-centric operations, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have become increasingly valuable for capturing realtime information for joint operations on the ground. Several attributes inherent in electronic systems architecture, however, contribute to issues in using these systems today. Enhancing the capabilities of electronic systems requires reinforcing the command and control cycle and supporting the frontline mission.

A friendly fire incident in northern Iraq in 1991 displayed several problems that arise with electronic systems architecture in this regard. F-15 fighters shot down a U.S. Blackhawk in a no-fly zone area due to the failure of the IFF (Identification Friend or Foe) system, among other failures.

UAV networks are made up of seven layers to establish the telecommunication capability.

Managing complex flight capabilities systems requires building efficient systems architecture. This efficient systems architecture requires a comprehensive and integrated effort to reduce human error caused by electronic systems in various military operation services. This challenge of integration necessitates standardization of electronic systems to run all systems efficiently as one, which in turn requires researchers and engineers to agree on electronic specification and standardized military aviation capabilities.

While aviation has changed since the friendly fire incident, the issue of how to design an aviation electronics system architecture that integrates with other aviation systems in battle still remains. In particular, as the military moves toward network-centric operations, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) will be valuable for capturing real-time information for joint operations on the ground; these UAVs facilitate the mission by conveying the scene accurately to the decision maker. In light of the technological progress of the armed forces, UAVs have become active weapons that support the front lines in battle by tracking the movement of the enemy on the battlefield.

Since more battles occur in constrained areas where it is difficult to transmit information over fixed networks, using UAVs’ ad-hoc networking communication architecture in these areas is a challenge. There are several ways to integrate communication architecture to connect multiple UAVs in a mesh network, but network latency affects the quality of battlefield information transfer via the UAV. The same is true for situational awareness views at the operations centers; network latency has a negative impact on decision makers in the theatre of operations.

In constrained areas, operators use UAVs to support mission achievement through reconnaissance to detect the enemy's position in battle. Therefore, a delay in signal communication between UAVs and the ground station will impact ground forces’ movement; commanders will not have enough information about the situation on the ground to guide or inform ground forces to attack or defend, which can cause loss of position, as well as increase the possibility of causalities.

The military needs an adaptive flexible network architecture to reduce vulnerability arising from latency. Future wars will require ensuring performance of packets in the network and providing a real-time picture to avoid lack of communication in battlefield environments. Therefore, network topology, network architecture, wireless propagation, network routing, network performance, and network applications are all needed to face this phenomenon. These technologies facilitate the exchange of information among nodes and also defend network capabilities in the operational theater for continued transmission.

Although some research has been conducted in the area of reinforcing signal strength between UAVs to ensure that network performance endures, the question remains of what type of network architecture maximizes signal performance in the face of constraints. This requires a network technology capable of facilitating electronic integration among various systems to establish efficient coordination. Given these requirements, improving network technology through effective systems architecture can ensure communication between a ground station and multiple UAVs’ nodes to reinforce network and telecommunication technology in mesh networks.

This research focuses on the effect of the UAV nodes’ altitude from a ground station on wireless performance within mesh network. Decentralized mesh networking topology indirectly supports UAV communication through an intermediate UAV. Altitude creates unstable network performance because of UAV speed and movement in free space that affect the antenna orientation, which in turn affects performance in this network. In order to reinforce the strength of ground forces, and support front line missions, it is necessary to maintain the connectivity of UAVs and the continuous transmission of information between UAVs and the ground station; it is therefore critical to understand what UAV altitude enhances network performance and minimizes mobile ad hoc network (MANET) latency.

This work was done by Abdulkarim Rashed T. Aljaber for the Naval Postgraduate School. For more information, download the Technical Support Package below. NPS-001


This Brief includes a Technical Support Package (TSP).
Modeling a UAV-Based Mesh Network to Analyze Latency and Throughput

(reference NPS-0016) is currently available for download from the TSP library.

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This article first appeared in the May, 2021 issue of Aerospace & Defense Technology Magazine.

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