RAAF demonstrates SATCOM-based UAS control from C-130J airlifter

SkyRanger 70 UAS
SkyRanger 70 UAS

The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) has successfully proven the feasibility of operating an unmanned aircraft system (UAS) using the satellite communications (SATCOM) suite on board an aircraft, the Australia Department of Defence (DoD) announced on 11 June.

SATCOM Suite Trials

According to the DoD, the trial was undertaken at RAAF Base Edinburgh between the No 3 Security Forces Squadron (3SECFOR) – which owns and operates the FLIR Systems SkyRanger R70 quadrotor UAS – and a Lockheed Martin C-130J Super Hercules airlifter assigned to No 37 Squadron (37SQN).

The DoD said the experiment, conducted under the auspices of RAAF Plan Jericho, proved the ability to operate a UAS via the C-130J’s onboard wideband SATCOM link and stream still and video imagery from the UAS.

C-130J Hercules

“This trial is the first time that airborne control UAS has been attempted from a C-130J Hercules,” RAAF Squadron Leader Peter Cunningham said in a statement. “We used our wide-band satellite communication systems to provide a link to the UAS controller on the C-130J beyond the line of sight, and received video from the UAS throughout the flight.”

The RAAF was also able to use the C-130J demonstrator’s recently integrated Rafael/Northrop-Grumman AN/AAQ-28 Litening electro-optical sensor pod to capture overarching video of the trial.

The unclassified proof-of-concept demonstration, which the DoD said had been organised within two weeks, provided evidence that such tactical-level initiatives can extend the defence force’s connected sensor network and pave the way for further development in technologies that would increase the amount of information that can be shared across its various units.

The RAAF’s C-130J fleet has benefited from a suite of upgrades that aims to improve its network connectivity, surveillance capabilities, and operating range.

Trials 2017

A new SATCOM system comprising Honeywell Aerospace’s JetWave Ka-band satellite communications hardware and Inmarsat’s Global Xpress satellite network service was fitted to part of the fleet following successful trials in 2017. The new Ka-band SATCOM suite complements the existing L-band SATCOM system already fitted all 12 RAAF C-130J aircraft, bringing increased bandwidth that supports secure live video streaming and data transfers.

by Jr NG