UAS and Robotics

Drones seen driving spectrum sharing technologies

Global Hawks close formation

The growth of military and commercial fleets of unmanned aircraft is underscoring the need for more efficient use of increasingly scarce electromagnetic spectrum, government regulators stress.

DOD's Electromagnetic Spectrum Strategy released in February emphasized that unmanned vehicles used to collect intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance information and relay communications are among the complex systems driving DOD spectrum requirements.

The Federal Aviation Administration is currently fleshing out a roadmap for integrating private unmanned aircraft into the nation's airspace. With an estimated 7,500 new drones expected to be flying in U.S. over the next five years, competition for spectrum needed to control them will be intense.

Among the regulatory issues is how agencies like the Federal Communications Commission will parcel out frequencies for line-of-sight and non-line-of-sight operations.

"We have a lot of work ahead of us on identifying exactly what the needs are," FCC chief engineer Julian Knapp told a recent conference on U.S. spectrum reform. Spectrum "sharing is going to be a given."

Knapp added that because unmanned aircraft "come in all shapes and sizes" depending on applications, "you have to be concerned about command and control," for example, and emerging capabilities like real-time video.

DOD is working with the FCC and the Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to determine whether the military can relocate to new frequencies or share those it currently uses exclusively. Spectrum sharing for unmanned vehicles will require new technologies like drones capable of operating in multiple frequency bands, experts said.

"Supporting UAVs and other unmanned systems is a huge, huge [technology] driver" for spectrum sharing, according to NTIA senior advisor Peter Tenhula.

Drone operations will require multiband capabilities while identifying best available spectrum for drone operations. "There's not one single scenario for those types of platforms," Tenhula continued. "They're at various altitudes, various locations, various times. They're going to have to be very, very spectrum agile.

"So they are going to be driving a lot of that technological development as well. So I don't see the same old dedicated band approach" beyond, for example, critical command and control functions, Tenhula added.


About the Author

George Leopold is a contributing editor for Defense Systems and author of Calculated Risk: The Supersonic Life and Times of Gus Grissom."Connect with him on Twitter at @gleopold1.

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