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Unmanned Vehicle Communications

This is a discussion on Unmanned Vehicle Communications within the Space & Defense Technology forum, part of the Global Defense & Military category; How do current unmanned vehicles communicate to their base stations? From research it appears that the main methods are direct ...


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Old November 10th, 2012   #1
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Unmanned Vehicle Communications

How do current unmanned vehicles communicate to their base stations? From research it appears that the main methods are direct radio communications, satellite communications, and communication relayed through battle-management aircraft.

What are the capabilities of each of these methods? Eg. bandwidth capability, size of communications device and antenna, etc.

Also, which of these methods is used most often in UAV's? It seems like satellite communications would induce unacceptable lag that wouldn't allow for direct control of the drone (to geosynchronous orbit and back, nearly half a second).

Direct radio communications seem like it would be unfeasible at long ranges - or when there are obstructions between the base station and the drone (eg terrain).

Sorry for all the questions, and thanks for the help!
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Old November 11th, 2012   #2
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Originally Posted by zplizzi View Post
How do current unmanned vehicles communicate to their base stations? From research it appears that the main methods are direct radio communications, satellite communications, and communication relayed through battle-management aircraft.

What are the capabilities of each of these methods? Eg. bandwidth capability, size of communications device and antenna, etc.

Also, which of these methods is used most often in UAV's? It seems like satellite communications would induce unacceptable lag that wouldn't allow for direct control of the drone (to geosynchronous orbit and back, nearly half a second).

Direct radio communications seem like it would be unfeasible at long ranges - or when there are obstructions between the base station and the drone (eg terrain).

Sorry for all the questions, and thanks for the help!
Unfortunately your query is difficult to answer for a variety of reasons. The first being that the question is so broad.

For unmanned vehicles, there are UAV's, UGV's, UUV's/ROV's, and USV's. These are aerial, ground, underwater and surface vessels respectively.

Naturally, the type of vehicle is going to impact comms methods. Similarly, the scale of the vehicle is going to impact comms. A small, backpack-carried UAV is not likely to use the same systems that a large UAV like a Global Hawk would for comms.

The antenna size can be inferred, if one knows the RF used, as there is a relationship between frequency and antenna. For more specific details, I suspect that those who know, are not in a position to share such information for security reasons.
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Old November 11th, 2012   #3
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Thank you for clarifying my question.

Do you know what method the Predator drone uses for communications? I can understand that the Global Hawk would work fine using satellites because it is not flown manually, and therefore the lag isn't really a big issue. However it seems like this would not be possible with a manually flow drone like the Predator.

From wikipedia on the Predator:
"But by 2000 improvements in communications systems (perhaps by use of the USAF's JSTARS system) made it possible, at least in theory, to fly the drone remotely from great distances. It was no longer necessary to use close-up radio signals during the Predator's takeoff and ascent. The entire flight could be controlled by satellite from any command center with the right equipment. The CIA proposed to attempt over Afghanistan the first fully remote Predator flight operations, piloted from the agency's headquarters at Langley."

I can understand how the drone could be operated by a STARS plane - but am I incorrect in thinking that the latency induced by satellites would be too much to actively fly and shoot missiles?
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