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Collins Demonstrates Directional Comms for UAVs

DARPA Project Will Help Maintain Covert Surveillance

Communications systems broadcast their signals in multiple directions at the same time, meaning the chances of their being detected are high. But now, as part of the DARPA-run Pheme project, Collins Aerospace has demonstrated a directional communications system that, the company says, will enable small unmanned aircraft – and potentially other kinds of platform – to operate in high-threat environments without adversaries being able to find out about it quite so easily.

The new system uses 5G technology which, radiates energy only toward the receiver. The company also says it relies on “new directional discovery and tracking techniques” that mean it can operate in areas where GPS jamming is in operation. In the demonstration, the company says the system was able to exchange high-throughput communications data “with minimal detection” between a radio on the ground and one in an airborne pod.

The project began with short-range ground-to-ground tests, before progressing to a flight demonstration, in which the equipment was flown in pods carried under the wing of a pair of L-29 DELFIN trainer jets belonging to the University of Iowa‘s Operator Performance Laboratory, instrumented for low-cost flight-test projects. The demonstration flights were operated from Iowa City airport.

This demonstration represents a significant step forward in enabling platforms to operate in contested environments in a very aggressive SWaP [size, weight and power] envelope,” said Ryan Bunge, VP/GM of Collins’ Communication, Navigation and Guidance Solutions division. “For decades we’ve leveraged our expertise to develop and deliver open, modular communications and connectivity systems in all form factors that will help our customers keep pace with evolving threats and technologies across multiple platforms.”


The directional comms system was flown in this underwing pod on a University of Iowa's L-29. (Photo: Collins Aerospace)

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