Up against increasingly sophisticated electronic warfare threats from countries such as Russia and China, drone maker AeroVironment and satellite communications company Viasat are partnering to develop better encrypted radio communications for the Puma AE reconnaissance unmanned air vehicle (UAV).

The two companies are working together under a contract granted through the US Army Reconfigurable Communications for Small Unmanned Systems initiative, AeroVironment said on 15 October. Viasat is the prime contractor for the award.

Puma AE c Aeroviornment

Source: AeroVironment

Puma AE being launched by hand

“The two companies will seek to strengthen the communications and transmission security of AeroVironment’s Digital Data Link radios currently used by the US Army by converting them into a Type 1 crypto communication system for video and data transmission,” says AeroVironment.

AeroVironment’s Digital Data Link is a small, manportable digital radio that controls the company’s hand-launched tactical UAVs. A Type 1 crypto communication system is equipment classified or certified by the National Security Agency for encrypting and decrypting classified and sensitive national security information.

The US Army, which is one of the main operators of AeroVironment’s tactical drones, is pushing to network its various UAVs, aircraft, vehicles and soldiers so that battlefield information can be quickly shared. However, existing tactical communications systems have already been shown to be vulnerable to electronic warfare, including jamming and spoofing. Transmissions have also been used in conflict zones, for example in eastern Ukraine, to geolocate targets for attacks.

The Puma AE is a small fixed-wing UAV used for short-range intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. Depending on the ground antennae used, the drone can fly out to 32.3nm (60km) and can carry electro-optical and infrared cameras within a gimbal.