A two-hour flight test of a U.S. Army Shadow unmanned aerial system (UAS) on June 26, 2013, represented a major milestone for the UAS Control Segment (UCS) architecture development effort. The flight test, conducted at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Ala., demonstrated the use of a UCS-compliant Bi-Directional Remote Video Terminal (BDRVT®) to control an aircraft and its payload. With the hand-held BDRVT, a separate operator on the ground was able to take control of a Shadow aircraft from its operator, direct its movement, control its sensors onboard to be able to see what the aircraft sees, and provide that information to the operator before returning control back to the Shadow operator. Although the UCS compliant BDRVT has been successfully demonstrated several times before with hardware in-the-loop simulations, this is the first time it has been accomplished in a live flight test.
The test validated the efforts of the UCS Working Group (an open technical society comprised of more than 200-plus organizations across government, industry, and academia) chartered by the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense (OUSD) for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics (AT&L) to develop the UCS architecture. The UCS architecture is a standard, and as such will establish commonality between Army, Air Force, and Navy UAS systems when implemented.
The BDRVT was developed by Kutta Technologies, Inc. of Phoenix, Ariz., with the close participation of AAI Textron Corp., through the Department of Defense (DoD) Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program. The BDRVT is incorporated into the Army’s One System™ Remote Video Terminal (OSRVT). OSRVT is a successfully fielded mobile system used to view live video and telemetry data from manned and unmanned aircraft. The BDRVT enhances the OSRVT capabilities and affords an operator the ability to provide supervised control of the air vehicle and full control of the sensor payload to select, annotate, and track targets.
The BDRVT utilizes open messaging standards and provides a minimally-trained field user the ability to easily control the full-motion video payload on board the Shadow UAS. The innovative architecture enables the BDRVT field user to task the UAS to autonomously perform sophisticated surveillance of routes, areas or specific points of interest with just a few simple touches on a computer screen.
In an operational context, this flight test proved that UAS control can be transferred to a warfighter who can position the aircraft and its sensors to provide real time situational awareness and also disseminate the information. At the end of its mission, the aircraft can be flown to the same or different location where control is returned to a GCS operator. The UCS architecture allows for other services and application, such as the BDRVT, to be the near seamlessly integrated to suit unique operational mission profiles as directed by the Project Management Office and warfighter.
The BDRVT complies with the STANAG 4586 level of interoperability (LOI) 3 mode, as well as the Army Interoperability Profile (IOP) supervised usage mode. Both modes were successfully demonstrated in the flight test. LOI 3 enables a remote operator to slew and zoom the payload and view points of interest. The supervised usage mode allows autonomous but supervised control of the air vehicle and payload, permitting the operator to define and survey routes and areas.
The BDRVT flight test was an OUSD-sponsored event and provided significant risk reduction for the Army UAS OSRVT Increment II Program of Record (PoR). The BDRVT maintains the OSRVT interface and is compliant with Army’s IOPs – specifically the air vehicle (AV) and payload command and control, the hand-over procedure between the Ground Control Station (GCS) and the BDRVT, and receipt of video from the AV.
During the flight test, the air vehicle was bound by a defined Safe Airspace Volume to ensure it did not breach its airspace restrictions when conducting supervised usage operations. A significant point of interest is that the Army’s BDRVT architecture was developed to the same levels of rigor that the Federal Aviation Administration requires for the certification of manned aircraft in the National Airspace.
In an operational context, this flight test proved that UAS control can be transferred to a warfighter who can position the aircraft and its sensors to provide real time situational awareness and also disseminate the information. At the end of its mission, the aircraft can be flown to the same or different location where control is returned to a GCS operator. The UCS architecture allows for other services and application, such as the BDRVT, to be the near seamlessly integrated to suit unique operational mission profiles as directed by the Project Management Office and warfighter. Thus, the architecture can bring about increased interoperability for the warfighter and yield significant return on investment for the American taxpayer through service and application reuse reducing total life-cycle costs.