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Enabling ISR with unmanned vehicles

Threats of all kinds are becoming more sophisticated and frequent around the world. More than ever, policing and security, defence, and Critical National Infrastructure (CNI) organisations rely on intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) data for Situational Awareness (SA) to identify threats, gather intelligence, make informed decisions and ensure mission success and safety. 

Gathering this data accurately, securely and in real time relies on the technical capabilities of Tactical Data Links (TDLs) or data downlinks. These securely exchange real-time, mission-critical SA data between platforms – like fixed and rotary wing platforms – and decision-makers in command centres. Yet, as the nature and frequency of threats continue to increase and the cost of unmanned systems decreases, security and defence organisations are demanding more agile, cost-effective and responsive options. For example, border or search and rescue surveillance via helicopters can be expensive, have limited range and be complicated to instruct in the air space. Today, the appeal of drones in such scenarios is increasingly apparent. 

In response, radio frequency (RF) data link capabilities are being developed to take advantage of the opportunities presented by the evolving Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV), Unmanned Ground Vehicle (UGV) and Unmanned Surface Vessel (USV) markets. One example is the newly launched Tove from British-based RF technology company Enterprise Control Systems (ECS). Tove is a low-profile, low-power, high-performance lightweight form factor data downlink certified to DO-160 (RTCA), designed specifically for unmanned, autonomous vehicle markets. When integrated into an unmanned system such as a drone, Tove can cost-effectively carry out ISR missions in air, sea or on land, which in some cases, require extreme ranges of up to 100 kilometres. 

Shifting to such a small form factor for ISR opens up new opportunities. With significantly reduced size, weight and power consumption, Tove can be added to a UAV to increase its capability or increase its endurance on a task. UAVs undoubtedly present significant cost, time and capability benefits in certain scenarios compared to carrying out the same task via a high-value fixed or rotary-wing platform. 

Secure data transmission 
Intelligence gathering requires the ability to share information securely, especially where such large volumes of data are transferred in real-time. This inevitably leads to the challenge of maintaining high-security levels. When it comes to data links, data throughput can become vulnerable to attacks as the demands from sensors and unmanned robotics grow. ECS capabilities mitigate this and ensure data security while keeping the robustness it is known for. Tove offers highly secure data transmission using sophisticated, in-house designed, encryption software. 

Technologically advanced
Tove’s onboard high-definition, low-latency video encoder provides superior compression, reduces channel bandwidth, increases spectral efficiency, and offers best-in-class range. GPS and bidirectional telemetry data is also added to the Tove stream to provide positional information to the fixed or mobile receive stations whilst allowing for the remote control of onboard sensors. New and legacy third party sensors can be connected via various common inputs, extending the platform’s capabilities without hindering its task. Data collected by digital or analogue sensors – such as video, audio, radar, or platform management information – is securely transmitted to the ground control centre.  

As technology innovators, as well as consistently acting ahead of the threats in the defence sector, ECS understands the developments that directly affect and inform technologies – such as broadcast and the latest video compression trends – to ensure that the most cutting-edge developments can be deployed at speed. Equally critical is ensuring that capabilities are not dependent on third party infrastructure such as LTE communications, which means data transfer would remain intact in the event of a mobile network outage during times of congestion. 

Agile approach and trusted partnerships 
ECS’ agile approach and ability to design products in-house, with emphasis on long-term reliability through proven quality management processes, has ensured it consistently produces leading designs and the ability to react quickly to changing and emerging threats. It ensures interoperability between products, for example, Tove is compatible with all ECS viewing terminals and ground receive infrastructure.

In addition, ECS builds close and trusted partnerships with defence organisations and others across the world to ensure it is equipped with the necessary valuable insight to tackle new and emerging needs. Combined with its agile UK-based team of highly-skilled engineers and former defence professionals, the organisation’s deep expertise, in turn, brings the next generation of innovations to market at speed and at scale. 

What’s next for RF data links
While there’s a clear shift towards unmanned air platforms, there is a continued need to have manned and unmanned operating in the same space using the same communication links. Interoperability between manned and unmanned platforms is a key challenge in today's security and defence environment, for air and ground assets as well as between agencies. The ability to share data and utilise shared assets and data links can ultimately help inform better decisions and take the best immediate action.


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