Navy tests first aircraft carrier drone control system

New carrier mission control software system for drones will provide refueling and reconnaissance capabilities.

The Unmanned Carrier Aviation Mission Control System (UMCS) was tested for the first time on April 11th to evaluate its software compatibility, data communication abilities, and electro-optical camera, for future use in refueling and reconnaissance operations.

According to statements by the Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR), the evaluation focused specifically on the ability of the UMC system hardware and software to integrate and communicate with the aircraft carrier’s network.

The hardware of the UMCS consists of an improved and adapted version of the Navy Sea Systems Command’s Common Display System and the Common Processing System that is used by the USS Zumwalt (DDG-1000), the Navy’s newest warship.

In terms of software, the UMCS uses a version of the Navy’s Common Control System (CCS). The CCS software has a unique architecture that allows user interfaces and other components within a common framework to be specifically adapted for integration with unmanned systems.

To create the unmanned air vehicle’s software, the UMCS program team loaded existing mission management, and planning and sensor control software applications onto the multi-purpose CCS mission systems platform. According to Capt. Beau Duarte, PMA-268 program manager, the test on April 11th proved that unmanned systems applications can be successfully transplanted to a common software architecture to perform their functions in a new context, in this case, in the aircraft carrier mission system.

“We have the ability to really drive interoperability and…we have had the opportunity to leverage many existing technologies and capabilities from other Navy platforms and integrate them into this program,” explained Duarte.

The UMCS software and hardware systems were tested using a Mobile Aviation Interoperability Lab (MAIL) truck imitating an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) to exercise the command and control feasibility of the UMCS.

The test also evaluated the voice trunking capability of the UMCS, which is the strength of the connection between the operator and the UAV, and its ability to have multiple communication signals emanating from a single source, according to industry developers.

Another focus of the test were the data sharing capacity of the UMCS, which meant testing the compatibility of the Automatic Identification System, a collision avoidance technology, and Electro-optical/infrared camera with the data communication UMCS software, according to a NAVAIR press release. Data sharing evaluations also looked at the system’s ability to process real-time mission adjustments and re-planning.

This UMCS test marks the start of an annual evaluation and demonstration schedule as improvements are made to the system.

The next step will be using the UMCS to operate smaller unmanned aerial systems and future developments will include the integration of a flight and cyber security approval mechanism, according to Duarte. Tests will also be conducted using unmanned system software developed specifically for the MQ-25 UAV, rather than adapted existing software applications, to test their compatibility with the CCS and aircraft carrier mission systems.

Ultimately, the ability to control UAVs from carriers will allow UAVs to become reliable and durable refuelers for the Navy’s strike fighters, said the NAVAIR press release, extending mission distances and durations and giving aircraft carriers a wider force extension. The UAVs could also provide valuable intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance data that is more relevant to the specific needs of the aircraft carrier.

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