Insight | Enabling military remotely piloted Aircraft Systems


Enabling military remotely piloted Aircraft Systems


Inmarsat Global Government Technical Sales Manager, Barney Gray, provides more details on solutions that will change the way small and medium sized uncrewed aircraft can be used across the military and public safety sectors.

The use of small and medium sized uncrewed aerial vehicles (UAVs) or drones in recent and ongoing conflicts has undoubtably changed the nature of military operations. Tactical UAVs or Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS), perhaps more than any recent technology advancement, are a major force multiplier.

The effects that tactical RPAS enable in a military operation have been well documented on social media. These RPAS can be deployed as dedicated Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) assets, collecting, and disseminating data on enemy positions to better coordinate artillery fire, or through the direct delivery of kinetic effect.

RPAS are controlled by an operator often connected by a line-of-sight radio which can limit the range of the aircraft. Adding a beyond-line-of-sight (BLOS) capability removes these restrictions and gives the remote pilot the ability to operate over the horizon, at global distances. This locates the pilot further away from a hotspot, in a position of relative safety, while at the same time increasing the range at which intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) data can be collected and acted upon.

Adding a satellite communication system to an RPAS is not a new idea. But to install a satellite communication system on tactical RPAS that can support command and control (C2) and ISR connectivity has not been an easy undertaking, until now.

Working with one of our integration partners, Inmarsat’s Global Government team has recently demonstrated how our L-MAX service could be used to enable drone swarms. Multiple drones would connect via a mesh to a ‘mother ship’ equipped with a small commercial satellite communications (SATCOM) terminal enabled with our L-MAX service. Remote pilots could then control the drone swarm and see live video and other sensor information from their HQ.

The Inmarsat L-MAX service gives military users the potential to use their own tactical waveforms, reducing the risk of interception and detection, all while delivering the added benefits of our global L-band ELERA network, giving the military operator a secure, assured, resilient service.

Smaller commercial satellite communications (COMSATCOM) terminals are further expanding the potential for how smaller tactical RPAS can be deployed and used in the battlespace. Solutions like Honeywell’s Small UAV SATCOM terminal weigh less than 1kg. Using the Inmarsat ELERA network and SwiftBroadband Service, this small terminal gives operators the ability to send and receive data beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS). Operators can view live video from the RPAS camera or any other data that has been collected.

Inmarsat Global Government is constantly working with technical partners to develop solutions that will change the way small and medium sized uncrewed aircraft can be used across the military and public safety sectors.

In the area of telemedicine, the value of RPAS is even more marked. Imagine medics or emergency responders being able to distribute lifesaving supplies by RPAS. No more unnecessary placing of people in harm’s way or risking the targeting and loss of MEDEVAC assets or traffic delays. Medical resupply can now realistically be facilitated by tactical RPAS with these able to deliver medicines, dressings or even blood to where it is needed. SATCOM connectivity also allows for the backhauling of medical data, specialist consultation and real-time monitoring of patients.

The true value of this technology is in its ability to keep operational staff safe and assisting response and recovery. Tactical RPAS could be used to survey and assess areas that have been subject to suspected chemical attack, or other high-risk locations such as minefields or wildfires. Sending data back in real time will maximise response time and the mobilisation of containment assets, especially in areas where other means of communication have been destroyed. Speedy reporting of this type of intelligence will help win the information battle and save lives.

Remote damage assessments and advance reconnaissance of supply routes can now be conducted remotely from tactical RPAS units. This mission-critical intelligence can be delivered over satellite instantly to wherever it needs to be assessed.

Tactical RPAS could also be used to support anti-piracy operations. Imagery could be used to positively identify individuals or vessels of interest. Large maritime areas can be quickly assessed for threats with imagery and other sensor information being sent back as it is collected. Tactical RPAS do not need large flight decks, so even the smallest of coastal patrol vessels can now have an airborne ISR capability.

Soon, COMSATCOM terminals such as the device being developed by TTP, will continue to revolutionise how and where small UAVs can be used. All powered by Inmarsat technology. We are where you need us to be, as is our reliable, resilient, ubiquitous connectivity.