With U.S. military services' increasing deployment of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), efforts are on to employ these systems in multi-purpose and multi-role support functions. This is leading to rapid modernization of their key infrastructure elements – ground control stations (GCS) and data links. There is also a move toward system commonality through adaptation of a control segment architecture that is open, standard and scalable and will allow operators to control multiple UAS from a common control system.
New analysis from Frost & Sullivan (aerospace.frost.com), U.S. Department of Defense: Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS), Ground Control Stations and Data Links, finds that FY 2011 budget documents posted expenditures for FY 2010 at $797.8 million for UAS related data links and $209.8 million for UAS related GCS.
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"Combined, UAS related GCS and data link government contracts accounted for an estimated $493.5 million of the overall Department of Defense (DoD) contracts awarded in 2010," says Frost & Sullivan Industry Analyst John Hernandez. "UAS related tactical data links (TDL) accounted for almost half of the defense spending on data links."
TDLs are crucial in combat environment to exchange information and situational awareness. Among the military departments, the Navy consumed most of the UAS-related data link contracts, accounting for 85.9 percent of the total spent by all the services. Updates to Common Data Link (CDL) specification and developmental systems too are expected to impact 10,000+ DoD airborne and ground intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) systems.
In addition to demand for TDLs, the increased dependence on UAS will drive the need for redundant anti-jam data link capabilities. Defense against electromagnetic pulse requires significant effort because it destroys unprotected electronic circuits. As communications and computerized control equipment rely upon electronic circuits to deliver their function; protection of these circuits requires solutions such as shielding and redundancy.
Emerging technology such as the U.S. Army's federated universal synchronization engine (FUSE) that will combine video feeds and sensor data from multiple UAS on a single ground control station too may find a niche within the GCS market.
However, the U.S. defense budget outlook is not promising for the overall UAS market in terms of procurement. Future funding is likely to go towards services and research, development and test and evaluation (RDT&E) directed at GCS, as the Air Force continues its modernization program for the Predator and Global Hawk systems.
Future UAS will require access to an interoperable, affordable, responsive and sustainable tactical network system of systems capable of satisfying service, joint, interagency and coalition-tactical information exchanges.
The migration toward standardized GCS software, interfaces, architecture and additional capabilities will open opportunities for companies that have established a foothold in the GCS market. The development of UAS platforms may include the possibility of electronic warfare capabilities and laser weapons which could expand the crew complement of GCS or add new challenges at improving interoperability across platforms.
"Going forward, the requirement for data link encryption may open new vertical markets," says Hernandez. "Companies able to produce technology or innovation that accelerates TDL systems integration will gain significant market share."
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U.S. Department of Defense: Unmanned Aircraft System Ground Control Stations and Data Links / N989