QinetiQ controls UAS via FSOC communication link. (QinetiQ)
QinetiQ has conducted the world's first demonstration of an airborne unmanned platform controlled through a laser communication system, the company announced on 20 July.
The demonstration involved an unmanned aerial system (UAS) controlled by a ground-based operator using free-space optical communications (FSOC) as a bidirectional link in its mission communication system to transmit control commands and receive sensor and platform information, the company stated.
A QinetiQ spokesperson informed
that the trial occurred in March and involved one of their own small multirotor unmanned aerial platforms.
The control of UASs are traditionally enabled by radio frequency (RF) transmission, this makes the systems vulnerable to detection, interception, and jamming; counter-UAS devices are designed to utilise this by disrupting UAS GPS and radio link transmissions to neutralise the platform.
According to the company, the successful demonstration of an integrated FSOC system as a means of operation was intended to demonstrate its ability to operate in a contested RF environment.
This demonstration formed part of the UK Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) Air Command and Control, Intelligence Surveillance & Reconnaissance, and Interoperability project – which seeks to improve the resilience of communication systems connected to air platforms, QinetiQ detailed. The project started in 2019, the spokesperson added.
The next steps in the project will involve further research into this capability's role within the wider manned/unmanned ‘uncrewed teaming (CUC-T) concept' and associated domain areas, the spokesperson said.