Andrea Lapiana, Engineering Lead for EuroLink Systems, discusses the advantages of using the company’s Beluga™ UAV family of mini-drones to support ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance) applications.
This includes EuroLink’s innovative rotor/propeller “Silent Drone” blade technology, water take-off/landing features instrumental to maritime applications, and the inclusion of CBRN (chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear) sensors critical to protecting war fighters and first responders.
Abstract: Drone ISR Target Applications
Drones have been adapted to and have been supporting ISR missions and applications both commercial and military, for decades.
Some of the early-stage, Military usage tracks back to the advent of the Global Hawk platform, which dominated the skies for high-endurance, high-altitude ISR missions – with emphasis on applications for raw intelligence gathering, monitoring troop movement, border/perimeter control, drug interdiction, etc. This platform (over time) was equipped with decision-support systems, linguistics (language processors), advanced communication systems (supporting interoperability) and other technologies hosted on the platform that support unique capabilities, like Foliage Penetrating Radar (FOPEN) – essential to scoping-out enemy capabilities in advance of a strike.
Due to the miniaturization curve and the demands of different classes of mission-critical applications – the range of drones today spans from the high-end, Global Hawk to mini, micro and nano drones that tackle ISR challenges. It is also noted that specific Defense Contractors have teamed-up with notable Technology hubs to develop microscopic drones that will be bringing the ISR domain to a different level of extraction and granularity. Drones are highly maneuverable and have become the real-time “Eyes in the Sky” focusing on high-value targets and keeping tabs on bad actors and malicious third-parties.
When one looks “under the hood” of today’s drones – the sophistication and complexity to support demanding and diverse ISR applications are clear. With continued advancements in multispectral and hyperspectral sensors, camera technology with autonomous features, high-performance data links, breakthrough security measures (to thwart cybersecurity vulnerabilities), remote sensing capabilities leveraging space-based, platforms to heighten command and control, etc. – the power of these platforms are beyond the scope of the original designers.
Technology advancements continue – with capabilities like SWIR (Shortwave Infrared) technology becoming a new generation of imaging technology that has the potential of re-defining ISR for ground, aerial and space applications. The DOD community is emphasizing “Swarms” both in the Military Doctrine and in its Operational plans. There are dedicated Initiatives and Program elements that are surfacing (cross-military lines) with generous budgets/funding allocations – in some cases 3X over a few years ago – to gain traction and further advance our experience to perpetuate Military superiority and protect the War Fighter.
Overview: Drone ISR Applications
Drones are used to collect data on enemy terrain, infrastructure, operational considerations and to support real-time planning, including monitoring enemy capabilities, offensive/defensive positions, and assessing battle damage.
Drones are also useful to monitor counterterrorism operations, which encompasses complex geographic areas for suspected terrorists and militants. These platforms support rapid decision-making, handle large volumes of data, provide critical communications flow and typically support high-intensity/dangerous missions, which are consistent with target ISR applications.
Given that drones can loiter for lengthy durations at varying altitudes, they have proven to be valuable tools for wide-area surveillance over geographic areas of interest. Drones have been equipped with sophisticated technologies that provide target tracking providing pinpoint accuracy for identification and tracking of targets of interest. This utilizes specialized sensors, advanced camera technology and machine learning software to support loitering overhead during day or night missions and support a range of weather conditions.
Some drones also support Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, and Explosives (CBRNE) sensing. When used for CBRNE detection, drones are equipped with specialized CBRNE sensors that detect explosives, radiation, chemical, and biological hazards from long distances. The use of drones for CBRNE missions enables military leaders to reduce risks of human loss and permanent health damages to first responders and warfighters in dangerous or hazardous environments.
The mission goals and conditions under which ISR missions are performed mandate specific combinations of different classes of drone platforms, surveillance sensor payloads, processing capabilities (and on-board AI) and other capabilities to support mission effectiveness.
Drone Platforms range from small (or nano), hand-launched systems that operate within line-of-sight, to long-range high-altitude systems that can loiter over a specific geographic area and track specific targets for an extended period of time. Sensor Payloads can include visual, infrared (IR), radio frequency (RF), and other types of signal measurements. The update rate to support surveillance applications can range from a single snapshot to a high-speed/high resolution motion picture. Drones refine and communicate actionable intelligence from large data sources captured by on-board sensors. Drones have a high-degree of configurability, which allows the Mission Planner to select and choose the right mix of capabilities to meet Mission requirements.
Drones are not without vulnerability – Cyber Attacks have become commonplace with on-board, software and communications networks being compromised. Cyber attacks can disrupt the command and control operations by changing navigation checkpoints, embedding errors into the GPS, altering camera direction and initiating other event-driven activities that impact drone effectiveness. These vulnerabilities have triggered major research efforts (both within the Military and Commercial target segments) to define and develop methods of defending drones against cyber attacks and have created urgency to define standards and frameworks for assurance of reliability and resilience to malicious attacks.
There continues to be high demand to support the design and development of agnostic state-of-the-art drone platforms that can broaden the concept and management of ISR missions. Beluga™ is a UAV family of mini-drones that can host high standard and affordable payloads for hard Concept of Operations (ConOps) mixed with AI on-board to provide end use safety and reliability, in terms of, Cyberattacks and other mission threats.
Beluga™ is designed to operate in prohibited and contested conditions, which allows continuous operations to analyze and pre-process data with strong feedback loops to the operator.
ISR applications demand drone platforms that are flexible and versatile, which can be configured to meet a range of mission requirements. EuroLink’s Beluga™ family of mini-drones is an example of innovation and elegance, which has been fostered by 3+ decades of EuroLink experience working with major Defense Contractors and Commercial customers solving complex problems. This has allowed EuroLink to gain insight from a real-world perspective, which has been translated into Beluga’s™ aerodynamic design, capabilities and features targeted for various use cases. Beluga™ is supported by a User Configuration Guide, which allows the system features to be selected easily to support the target application.
This is particularly useful to the Planner/Program Manager or Field Operations Specialist, given the diverse nature of ISR applications.
The high IP rating (up to 67) allows Beluga™ to address a range of harsh environment scenarios and supports a wind resistance of 50 km/h, resulting in an effective drone to meet ISR mission requirements.
Beluga™ has on-board, AI algorithms, specialized sensors and advanced high-definition, camera technology essential to detect and recognize targets, which are key to wide area surveillance and target tracking. The platform hosts a radar detector that can catch the reflection of passive objects, which is essential to infrastructure and obstacle monitoring.
With 100 km/h top speed and 1 hour of endurance, Beluga™ can support BVLOS operations, in order to maximize air utilization time and provide substantial field coverage. Although Beluga’s™ operating procedures are designed around ease-of-use principles, this platform is made for tough, demanding and challenging applications.
EuroLink has innovated a breakthrough rotor/propeller blade technology that supports the “Silent Drone” – critical to Military ISR applications and a water take-off/landing feature that is instrumental to Maritime applications. This family of mini-drones includes CBRN (chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear) sensors critical to protecting the War Fighter and First Responders.
Conclusions and Perspectives
Consistent with the standard approach, EuroLink is ready to customize the system for the target application, which will result in jointly defined Requirements Definition/SOW. Furthermore, EuroLink is eager to collaborate on overall mission goals, project plan, flight path to target destinations, etc. – to configure the right Beluga™ solution to fit the target need. That includes a demonstration program with actual payload items – common to the application. EuroLink can translate these efforts into Proposals for consideration.