Drone Relay: PRC-152 Radios + RQ-7 UAVs = Front-Line Bandwidth
With delays to satellite programs forcing costly civilian bandwidth buys, and breakthrough programs like TSAT still a distant reality, the US military is looking for ways to deliver bandwidth to the front lines. Urban areas and mountainous in particular can pose a problem, as traditional “line of sight” options have range and coverage issues. the fact that these conditions describe vast swathes of Iraq and Afghanistan illustrates the importance of the problem.
One obvious option is to use a flying communications relay. High-value assets like E-8C JSTARS and Nimrod aircraft have been used in this capacity, but the operational and depreciation costs of their flight hours make this a very expensive solution. Options like Aerovironment’s giant Global Observer hydrogen-powered UAV promise high-altitude relays with strong capacity, but there won’t be very many of those around, either. The US Army in particular was looking for a lower-cost option that could provide more dispersed but smaller coverage areas.
The US Army’s RQ-7 Shadow 200 UAV fleet may not be armed, but it racked up almost 100,000 flight hours in 2007, providing surveillance and targeting to the front lines. Meanwhile Harris Corp.’s JTRS-compatible AN/PRC-152-C Falcon-III handheld radios have racked up their own contracts for short-range tactical communications, competing against Thales’ AN/PRC-148-JEM in the multi-billion dollar CISCHR contract and other awards. Now the US Army has elected to put the two together, and mount AN/PRC-152-C radios in the Shadow 200 UAVs as short-range, widely available communication relays that can keep squads in touch. Harris informs DID that “hundreds” of these packages are being purchased, and notes that this application is still evolving. The Fall 2007 issue of Army Communicator gives this Communications Relay Package a range of up to 170 km/ 105 miles; the PRC-152-C covers the 30-512 MHz frequency range with Advanced Narrowband Digital Voice Terminal (ANDVT) voice, up to 56 kbits/sec data, and an optional High Performance Waveform (HPW). Harris release.