DARPA's unmanned aerial systems (UAS) can be fitted with a wide range of payloads to allow for communications, surveillance, or combat support missions. The problem is, compact UAS can usually only carry one such instrument at a time, and need to land to swap them over. Now, DARPA and BAE Systems are collaborating on a program to rebuild the payload architecture, enabling smaller UAS to multitask.

Each of these payloads usually brings with it a full suite of dedicated components, like antennas, processors and radio frequency (RF) equipment, but on a compact UAS, space is a valuable commodity. There are strict size, weight and power constraints to abide by, meaning either several UAVs carrying different payloads need to be airborne at the same time, or one has to land to have its function manually changed.

To help solve that problem, DARPA launched the Converged Collaborative Elements for RF Task Operations (CONCERTO) program. Rather than have each payload instrument carry its own dedicated components, the RF architecture would be redesigned so common hardware is shared. This kind of multifunction system would let smaller UAS swap missions mid-flight, removing the need to land or have multiple craft in the air simultaneously.

Worth a total of US$5.4 million, DARPA awarded two contracts to BAE Systems to help develop technology for CONCERTO. To that end, BAE is focusing on squeezing the most out of the hardware's RF capabilities, in terms of bandwidth, frequency, distance and field of view, as well as a new software engine to process all that information, and adapt to different modes on the fly.

When it's all up and running, the multifunction systems should allow the UAS to switch between different missions without coming down to Earth, including intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, command and control, networking and combat operations.

"This agility is particularly important in denied environments, where multiple mission functions are typically needed to penetrate defenses and remain operational," says Randall Lapierre, technology development manager at BAE Systems. "By enabling small platform systems to share core components, we're helping them become more agile and stay on station longer."

The video below shows how technology developed through the CONCERTO program could work.

Source: BAE Systems