Jackson White, Business Development Director of Tactical Data Links and VP of Marketing at SPX CommTech, provides insight into data in the modern battlefield. He introduces a new solution that’s set to deliver high-volume, high-quality video and audio to the tactical edge:
Q: How are users using Tactical Data Links today?
A: Airborne Tactical Data Links enable the seamless and real-time exchange of mission-critical situational awareness data between platforms, such as fixed and rotary-wing aircraft and decision-makers in tactical and strategic locations across an operational area. By transmitting via Radio Frequency (RF) signals, the SPX CommTech Tactical Data Links capabilities make this possible. Reliable and assured real-time situational awareness information is passed during land, sea and air operations using our proven Evenlode solution to deliver a flexible, secure solution for transmitting real-time video and IP data. Our Data Links are designed to provide defence and security organisations with the best operational capability and bridge the gap between operation domains.
Until recently, SPX CommTech Tactical Data Links were primarily designated to fixed and rotary-wing aircraft but are now used in multiple roles. Today, having to keep pace with the vast amounts of operational data created by the growth of small, lightweight and low-power airborne sensors, high-performance Data Links are needed to allow users to receive and transmit Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) data even further, from their mission system to the point of use. Data Links have also reduced the cost of a typical crewed ISR mission by providing ‘Line of Site’ and ‘Beyond the Line of Site’ capabilities to remotely control the sensors on an Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) and the UAS itself.
While each defence and security application has its own Concept of Operations (ConOps), we are seeing these evolve due to the emergence of Data Links which are more robust in a congested RF environment, with a higher data exchange capacity, whilst keeping the data assured to the required standard.
Q: How have data requirements changed in recent times?
A: An increase in data volumes has translated into a need for improved Data Link capacity, while more multi-role platforms are driving a need to distribute data to more points of interest beyond the strategic command centre. The shift to multi-role air platforms has also led to increased sensor integration and the delivery of greater volumes of data, which need to be analysed on the platform itself and on the ground to enhance decision-making and overall speed of operations.
However, challenges have emerged due to the limited bandwidth available to transfer larger volumes of data to the ground. Therefore, the focus has been on providing better compression techniques.
Equally, we’ve seen more defence and security organisations opt to remotely control platform sensors from the ground. This has been possible due to the rise of remotely piloted Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), which reduce the risk of loss of life, increase the platform’s endurance, and reduce cost by removing the sensor operator from the platform.
Strategic and tactical information is critical in making timely decisions in environments where every second counts. However, operational doctoring dictates that decision-making responsibility is delegated to the tactical commanders, which is notoriously fast-paced and unpredictable. Available RF bandwidth in these environments is reduced. Therefore, it’s essential to find ways to deliver accurate data in compressed formats so it can be delivered efficiently.
Q: How are SPX CommTech’s products and capabilities addressing these needs?
A: At Enterprise Control Systems (ECS), part of SPX CommTech, we’ve increased our capabilities within the Data Link portfolio to ensure we’re responding to the demands of defence and security organisations as their requirements evolve. It’s now critical that we can deliver the high data throughput and speed defence and security organisations need to be effective.
Our commitment is to deliver secure data and analysis securely to command centres and those operating at the tactical edge. In this context, we’ve just announced a new solution designed to meet the increased demands of defence and security organisations when conducting ISR operations.
The updated Evenlode Video and Audio Encoder/Decoder will improve video compression for ISR operations and is the next step in our operationally proven Evenlode series. The Encoder/Decoder’s compressed video and audio data allow for the transfer of high-quality video over a lower RF bandwidth pipe or transfer more – up to four videos – in the standard Evenlode transmission for air and ground application over long ranges.
In parallel, the decoding capability will increase the number of video formats and transport protocols that can be supported. The solution allows for transcoding or re-streaming to other destination points, allowing defence and security organisations to receive and distribute video across the most challenging networks. In addition, its backward compatibility with current and legacy Evenlode systems adds flexibility to the user’s video distribution aims without upgrading entire systems.
Q: What specific benefits will this deliver to the tactical edge?
A: The new Evenlode Video and Audio Encoder/Decoder delivers speed and accuracy of intelligence data so effective decisions can be made at the tactical edge. Compression techniques allow users and commanders to stream quality, secure data wherever they are. We take responsibility for securely delivering data to the point of need where users can analyse and make faster decisions.
Low latency allows greater control of remote sensors over ranges of up to 200 kilometres. This enables users to stream real-time audio and visual feeds and remotely control the camera’s direction for best situational tracking without lag. Defence and security organisations will also find cost savings due to the shift to unmanned platforms, which increases endurance with their reduced size and weight, therefore delivering greater mission capability. In addition, and highly pertinent to the defence sector, this will translate into a reduced risk of loss of life.
On a specification level, the new solution delivers highly sought-after 4K Ultra High-Definition video image quality that provides a maximum system resolution of 1080p60 and enhances the image after compression, making it easier to identify details and potential threats by providing high resolution, allowing our users to view images in detail. It’s also certified to RTCA DO160G standard, which assures the equipment’s performance characteristics required for airborne electrical and electronic equipment being installed into manned, fixed and rotary-wing aircraft. It has six separate video inputs – four HD and two SD – capable of encoding four videos simultaneously, allowing defence and security organisations to select the latest mission-critical information required with no disruption to the operation.
Q: Looking to the future, how will SPX CommTech continue to support users?
A: Streaming is the next vital step for users to keep them ahead of threats. Streaming provides even more seamless transmission and replay of audio and visual data. The new Evenlode Video and Audio Encoder/Decoder is the first building block to enable us to do that. We’re enhancing airborne ISR capabilities by integrating secure streaming services – all in a single physical solution.
We’re enabling ISR streaming for video and data feeds from multiple platforms to a central point of viewing where forward distribution can occur across various secure networks, allowing defence and security organisations to make faster, more timely decisions. We’ll also look to offer a secure self-hosted or on-premises hosted network for defence and security organisations conducting ISR operations. To successfully do so, we’re drawing from our expertise over the last 35 years in the airborne ISR space whilst continuing to listen and understand the challenges faced by defence and security organisations across the globe to help them manage their mission-critical data.