Can the Army create a universal ground control system for UAVs? The ability to use hundreds of comparatively cheap UAVs from different manufacturers has been a blessing to ground forces, who finally have the comprehensive aerial coverage they want. It can also be a curse. If each system has its own unique controller and vehicle – or worse, its own receiver and screen – the result will be chaos.
Enter AAI’s One System ground control offerings, which are a step toward a more universal future. This Spotlight article covers the One System concept, its ongoing development, its current reach, and future technology initiatives and requirements that will affect UAV ground control.
AAI’s One System
Ground Control Stations for UAVs have 2 main functions. One is secure control of the UAV’s flight and payload(s). The other involves communication back to the larger command network, and the ability to send the UAV’s data to other nodes in the network.
One System uses a 3-tiered set of offerings. One is the full ground control system (GCS), mounted in a shelter. They can fly and land the UAV, control sensors or weapons, and communicate with a range of back-end systems to share data with other platforms and/or send it back to command personnel. The next tier down is a Portable GCS that offers flight and payload control, but very limited communications capabilities. At the lowest and most widely distributed tier is the ROVER-based One System Remote Video Terminal (OSRVT) and its companion MDAS directional antenna, which are currently receive-only.
The original One System platform was designed for Textron subsidiary AAI’s RQ-7 Shadow TUAS (Tactical Unmanned Aerial System). It was also compatible with other UAVs, including the IAI/AAI RQ-2 Pioneer, AAI’s Aerosonde, the IAI/Northrop Grumman RQ-5 Hunter, Northrop Grumman’s RQ-8 Fire Scout helicopter UAV, and Bell Helicopter Textron’s Eagle Eye VTUAV(Vertical Takeoff Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) tilt-rotor. The Block 1 system ran on Sun Solaris, with some ancillary Windows-based communication equipment, and communicated with the UAV over an analog datalink, using a directional antenna. It deployed in a 2-console S-788 Lightweight Multipurpose Shelter, which can be mounted on the back of a Hummer, and had about 6-10 “information exchange” requirements for back-end compatibility with other communications systems.
The next step was compatibility with General Atomics’ Predator-derived MQ-1C SkyWarrior UAV. The One System Block 2 implementation made several changes. The most visible change for SkyWarrior One Systems was the move to a larger an S-280C/G containerized shelter, in order to accommodate 3 consoles and more communications equipment.
The biggest Block 2 changes involved the Block 2 software, which now included compliance with NATO’s emerging STANAG 4586 for standard UAV control system interfaces, and with the USA’s digital Tactical Common Data Link (TCDL). With those changes, One System would be able to control any UAV that uses the TCDL as its communications link, or complies with NATO’s STANAG 4586 protocols. The other big shift in the Block 2 software was the explosion of information exchange requirements. This ballooned from Block 1’s 6-10 line of sight options to over 150 compatibility requirements, including beyond line of sight options like Satellite Communication (SATCOM).
AAI is moving to transfer this expertise back to existing platforms. It’s transitioning to the Block 2 software for fielded Hunter and Shadow Ground Control Systems, in order to give them TCDL compatibility. Other platforms like the RQ-8 Fire Scout VTUAV will also be incorporating TCDL, creating a common baseline that will make it much easier to plug future UAVs into a common control system.
The next steps for One System are two-fold.
One is the move toward a Universal Ground Control Station (UGCS). This Block 3 shelter will include the latest generation of hardware running Block 2 software on Red Hat and Montavista Linux. It can be mounted in S-788 or S-280 shelters, or installed on board ship. The number of information exchange requirements will exceed 300.
The other shift involves the One System Remote Video Terminal (OSRVT). Because it’s based on ROVER, it can already receive information from a very wide range of UAVs and sources, from Aerovironment’s hand-launched RQ-11 Raven mini-UAV to an F/A-18 Hornet equipped with a LITENING surveillance and targeting pod. OSRVT Block II, also known as BDRVT, will use the legacy Shadow datalink to create bi-directional links, and give OSRVT operators on the front lines control of the UAV’s sensor payload.
The big challenges for OSRVT II are two-fold. Wider bi-directional control of more UAV types will require a common datalink system. AAI is working with Army, Marines, and to some extent the USAF, to ensure interoperability via the digital TCDL link. The other challenge goes deeper, and involves the UAV’s internal control avionics. The UAV’s owner must be able to maintain full responsibility, which means control of the sensor payload must be split from control of the aircraft. For some UAVs, full OSRVT II compatibility will involve internal avionics modifications. Eventually, however, all US Army unmanned aircraft will transition to a common set of control system standards that should remove this problem.
Control of multiple UAVs is possible via One System, but in practice it isn’t used. The Universal GCS network architecture will certainly let the system use multiple datalinks, but communication is point-to-point and based on directional antennas. That makes it hard to efficiently link up with multiple UAVs spread out over wide areas, unless airborne electronically-steered antenna panels or wide, high-bandwidth satellite coverage are present.
Work is actually under way in both of these areas, via satellite constellations like AEHF and the less-secure WGS, and research involving AESA radars as broadband communications links. At present, however, the cost/benefit ratio involved hasn’t justified development of OSRVT-related options.
Contracts and Key Events
FY 2012 – 2019
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Note that most initial One System purchases are tied up in the original buys for related UAVs, such as the RQ-7 Shadow, MQ-1C SkyWarrior, and MQ-8B Fire Scout VTUAV. Buys as usually expressed as “Unmanned Air Systems,” which include the control systems and related equipment as well as the UAVs themselves.
February 11/19: Australia The US Army Contracting Command awarded Textron Systems with a $7.1 million contract modification for contractor logistics support of the One System Remote Video Terminal (OSRVT) for Australia. The OSRVT delivers dismounted troops full-motion video and telemetry from the aircraft’s payload, just as it can be seen from the ground control station. It is able to receive information from a very wide range of UAVs and sources. The modification is part of the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program. Work will be performed in Hunt Valley, Maryland and is expected to be completed by May 7 this year.
Dec 20/12: Support. AAI Corp. in Hunt Valley, MD receives a $22.1 millon cost-plus-fixed-fee contract to cover Contractor Logistics Support for the One System Remote Video Terminal.
Work will be performed in Hunt Valley, MD with an estimated completion date of Dec 30/13. The bid was solicited through the Internet, with 1 bid received by US Army Contracting Command in Redstone Arsenal, AL (W58RGZ-13-C-0016).
Aug 29/12: Support. Textron’s AAI Corp in Hunt Valley, MD receives a $7.3 million cost-plus-fixed-fee contract modification, ordering OSVRT technical services. Work will be performed in Hunt Valley, MD, with an estimated completion date of Aug 20/13. One bid was solicited, with one bid received. by US Army Contracting Command in Redstone Arsenal, AL (W58RGZ-06-C-0190).
July 9/12: Shadow V2. Textron’s AAI Corp in Hunt Valley, MD announces a $358 million award from the US Army’s PEO – UAS for engineering support and system upgrades that will create a fleet of 45 full RQ-7B v2 Shadow systems. Deliveries of 43 systems for the Army and 2 for the Marine Corps are expected to begin in late 2013.
This is a typical example of major ground system advances embedded in a UAV contract. The RQ-7B v2 system incorporates a number of UAV improvements, including weapon hard points on the extended wings, and expanded flight endurance from 6 to 9 hours. It also includes the new control system set: Universal Ground Control Station (UGCS), Universal Ground Data Terminal (UGDT), Portable Ground Data Terminal (PGDT) and Portable Ground Control Station (PGCS). The new UGCS adds several improvements, including multiple radios in convenient locations, dual 30-inch monitors, more comfortable seating and more room, individually controlled vents for heating and air conditioning, and white boards.
New RQ-7B = new OSVRT
May 6/12: Production. Textron’s AAI Corp in Hunt Valley, MD receives a $50.75 million firm-fixed-price contract. The award modifies an existing contract associated with RQ-7 shadow UAVs, in order to buy Universal Ground Control Stations (the OneSystem upgrade).
Work will be performed in Hunt Valley, MD, with an estimated completion date of July 31/13. One bid was solicited, with 1 bid received by US Army Contracting Command in Redstone Arsenal, AL (W58RGZ-08-C-0023).
FY 2007 – 2011
Data link; ground control stations.
March 27/11: Sub-contractors. ChandlerMay announces that it has received the “Above and Beyond” award from Textron System’s AAI Corporation in Hunt Valley, MD, to recognize their performance providing major Ground Control Station (GCS) subsystems to the RQ-7 Shadow program in 2010.
ChandlerMay has been partnered with AAI Corporation since 2001 on the Shadow TUAS program, and continues to provide vehicle-mounted ground control stations, portable ground control stations (PGCS); plus maintenance, RESET, and Integrated Logistics Support (ILS) for the ground control stations. The “One System®” GCS, now being upgraded to the “Universal Ground Control Station,” undergoes final integration and test at AAI’s facility in Hunt Valley, MD.
April 12/11: Production. AAI Corp in Hunt Valley, MD receives a $6.7 million cost plus fixed-fee contract for 1,184 one system remote video terminal (OSRVT) systems. Work will be performed at Hunt Valley, MD, with an estimated completion date of Oct 31/12. One bid was solicited and one received by the US Army Contracting Command at Redstone Arsenal, AL (W58RGZ-06-C-0190).
March 14/11: Upgrades. AAI Corp. in Hunt Valley, MD receives a $7.4 million firm-fixed-price contract to add new receiver components into the OSRVT baseline. Work will be performed in Hunt Valley, MD, with an estimated completion date of Aug 31/11. One bid was solicited with one bid received by the US Army Contracting Command at Redstone Arsenal, AL (W58RGZ-06-C-0190).
June 26/09: TCDL. Textron subsidiary Army Armaments Incorporated (AAI) in Hunt Valley, MD received a $32.1 million cost-plus-fixed-fee contract for the modification that exercises options for additional engineering services hours to support tactical command data link (TCDL) in Shadow 200 UAV systems. Work is to be performed in Hunt Valley, MD, with an estimated completion date of Oct 30/10. One bid was solicited with one bid received by the U.S. Army Contracting Command/CCAM-AR-A in Redstone Arsenal, AL (W58RGZ-08-C-0033).
April 30/09: Support. Textron subsidiary AAI Co. in Hunt Valley, MD received a $29.2 million cost plus fixed-fee contract for 12 months of Contractor Logistics Support (CLS) of their One System Remote Video Terminals (OSRVT) and its Mobile Directional Antenna System (MDAS).
Work is to be performed in Hunt Valley, MD, with an estimated completion date of April 30/10. U.S. Army Contracting Command, AMCOM Contracting Center, in Redstone Arsenal, AL manages this contract (W58RGZ-06-C-0190).
May 5/08: Support. AAI Corp. in Hunt Valley, MD receives a $14.5 million cost-plus-fixed fee contract for 12 months of Contractor Logistics Support (CLS) for their One System Remote Video Terminals (OSRVT) and its Mobile Directional Antenna System (MDAS).
Work will be performed in Hunt Valley, MD, and is expected to be complete by April 30/09. One bid was solicited on January 2008 by the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Command in Redstone Arsenal, AL (W58RGZ-06-C-0190).
Sept 18/07: Production. Smal business qualifier AAI Corp. in Hunt Valley, MD received a $13.2 million modification to a firm-fixed-price contract for One System Remote Video Terminals (OSRVT) and the accompanying Mobile Directional Antenna System (MDAS).
Work will be performed in Hunt Valley, MD, and is expected to be complete by Dec 31/09. This was a sole source contract initiated on April 17/07 by the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Command in Redstone Arsenal, AL (W58RGZ-06-C-0190).
DID appreciates the technical assistance of AAI Textron’s Divisional Vice President of One System Programs, Tom Bachman.
* AAI Textron – The One System.
* CDL Systems – NATO STANAG 4586
* DID Spotlight – ROVER Sics TacAir on America’s Enemies
* DID/DII FOCUS – Warrior ER/MP: An Enhanced Predator for the Army
* DID/DII FOCUS – The Fire Scout VTUAV Program: By Land and By Sea
* DID Spotlight – Breaking Down UAV GCS Barriers on ground control interop and cross-vendor compatibility.