QinetiQ has successfully demonstrated the world’s first laser control system for drones during testing at the British Army’s Salisbury Plain Training Area in Wiltshire, UK.
During the test, a ground based operator control sent control commands and received sensor and platform information from the drone using a Free Space Optical Communications (FSOC) in a bi-directional link.
The demonstration was a live-virtual event, using interoperable message standards to task a number of virtual platforms and the live UAS.
FSOC is being developed for covert and low detection probability military operations in the future because provides very high bandwidth, very low probability of detection communications, low logistical footprint and the potential to negate radio frequency (RF) jamming technology.
The control of drones has in the past been done via the use of RF technologies, which are prone to detection and interference. The test was a successful demonstration of an integrated FSOC system as a means of operation in a contested RF environment .
The demonstration formed part of the UK’s DSTL (Defence Science and Technology Laboratory) Air Command and Control , Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) and Interoperability project. The project objectives include improving both the digital interoperability and resilience of the communication systems that connect air platforms and associated capabilities both current and potential. The outputs of the project are supporting exploitation activities within the UK MOD Front Line Commands, including Air, Land, Maritime and Joint.
Dave Dixon, QinetiQ technical lead for the project said, “This innovative use of FSOC builds on the earlier Crewed-Uncrewed Teaming demonstrations that provided UK and European firsts in the live airborne control of UAS [unmanned aerial systems]. It also showcases the talent and capability available in the UK and provides further evidence that teams comprising both humans and machines are an essential part of how militaries operate in the future”.
Rob Scott, QinetiQ programme manager said, “To make it possible we had to take a mission-led innovation approach and work very closely with DSTL and partners. We’d also like to thank AVoptics for their support and rapid integration of their WOLF FSOC system into the demonstration”.