Armed Forces International News - August 2012

UAV Swarm Technology Trial Success

Posted by Paul Fiddian - Armed Forces International's Lead Reporter on 07/08/2012 - 08:20:00

UAV Swarm Trials

Equipped with just a military radio and a laptop, a US warfighter has managed to control a small fleet of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles.

During flight trials that took place in Oregon earlier this year, Boeing ScanEagle UAVs were guided by a single source. The tests pave the way for swarms of UAVs to one day loiter over the battlefield, acquiring and distribution relevant tactical data much more quickly that single examples can presently manage.

The flight trials involved a ground-based US troop with only limited experience of UAV flight operation and management. Even so, he managed to make contact with multiple UAVs, give them tasks and then extract data, all without the need for a hi-tech ground control station.

UAV Swarm Trials

Crucial to these UAV swarm trial demonstrations was technology produced by the Applied Physics Laboratory at John Hopkins University. It's this that enables UAVs to operate like insect swarms, exchanging data whilst up in the air to carry out tasks with more speed and efficiency.

"This swarm technology may one day enable warfighters in battle to request and receive time-critical intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance information directly from airborne UAVs much sooner than they can from ground control stations today", Boeing Phantom Works' Advanced Autonomous Networks program director, Gabriel Santander, explained in a company press release, adding: "Swarm network technology has the potential to offer more missions at less risk and lower operating costs."

UAV Swarm Technology

The Boeing ScanEagle design - as used in the UAV swarm technology control trials - is a small drone that first flew in 2002. Used by the US Marine Corps, the Royal Canadian Air Force and several other military services, it boasts an array of visual recording equipment and can stream data over a 100+ kilometre range.

Cruising at 60 knots, the ScanEagle has a 20+ hour endurance and it doesn't require a traditional airbase setting to support its operations. Rather, it flies off the end of a launcher and, at the end of its flights, is caught by a hook system.

As of July 2011, the world's in-service ScanEagles had flown missions totalling 500,000 hours in length.

Image copyright US Navy

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