June 28, 2007 Boeing has successfully demonstrated the simultaneous command and control of multiple unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) by a single operator. The demonstration at Boeing's Boardman test range utilized advanced autonomous control software, three ScanEagle aircraft and an Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) console. Already an effective and proven weapon in the field, this next-generation of UAVs this will see future battlefields transformed by large numbers of unmanned craft that can operate through a central control point as well as having the ability to self-organize and make decisions independently.
The demonstration showcases capabilities that will enhance interoperability with current and future command and control systems through an open, standards-based system and significantly reduce the workload of unmanned vehicle operators.
"Lessening the workload allows a single operator to manage a group of UAVs as a cooperative, coordinated system," said Ed Froese, vice president, Boeing Advanced Anti-Submarine Warfare and Intelligence, Reconnaissance and Surveillance Systems. "Mission operators are freed from micro-managing the routes and other activities. Instead, they describe their high-level goals and objectives to the system, and the advanced autonomous control software manages the UAVs to achieve a coordinated effect."
During the exercises a single operator used the Boeing-developed Distributed Information-Centralized Decision (DI-CD) autonomous mission control software to manage three ScanEagles simultaneously. The operator also used Stalker target-tracking software to command one UAV to follow a moving vehicle without constant oversight and Open Mission Management (OMM) software.
While the mission operator used the DI-CD software to control the surveillance activities of three ScanEagles, an "observer" in the field sent the location of a time-critical target via a cell phone to an AWACS Block 40/45 operator console. The AWACS operator successfully requested video of the target through the primary AWACS display.
The DI-CD software automatically generated updated ScanEagle task and mission plans, which were shown to the mission operator using the OMM software and sent to the UAVs using standard protocols. The UAVs beamed video back to the mission operator and the AWACS operator, who coordinated a simulated F/A-18 strike on the target. The same target video was relayed to the observer's cell phone.
In another test, a UAV operator used the Stalker software to order one of the ScanEagles to automatically follow and monitor a simulated terrorist truck. The software continually monitored the truck's movements even as it made several abrupt turns, stops and starts trying to evade detection. The system automatically adjusted the ScanEagle's flight path to stay undetected and in an optimal position to image the vehicle.
QinetiQ and the UK Ministry of Defence (MOD) have also recently demonstrated multiple control of UAVs from the air with a new system that provides a single pilot with the ability to fly their own military fast jet while simultaneously directing up to four further unmanned aircraft. These trials were flown using a Tornado as the command and control aircraft. The Tornado pilot had responsibility for commanding a BAC 1-11 trials aircraft plus a further three simulated UAVs.
Lockheed Martin is also making technological advances in the area as the demand for UAV platforms expands. This includes a hybrid version of its F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter which could be operated with or without a human pilot as required.