Key to the Future of Unmanned Aircraft Systems?
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Can the future of highly technical unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) depend on something as minor as frequencies? The answer is an overwhelming yes, and, by the way, frequencies and spectrum management are not minor players in today’s global operations.The Department of Defense’s (DOD) Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Roadmap, 2005–2030 (Washington, DC: Office of the Secretary of Defense, 4 August 2005) reported an increased demand from combatant commanders for UAS support, stating that the DOD’s challenge is “the rapid and coordinated integration of this technology to support the joint fight” (1). This increased demand could be the logical effect of a February 2004 report by the Defense Science Board recommending that the acquisition and operational fielding of unmanned aerial vehicles be accelerated. Despite promoting their increased fielding and use, both documents are open about deficiencies and challenges.The road map lists problem areas highlighted by combat operations, including the lack of communications frequencies; furthermore, the Defense Science Board report identifies communication bandwidth constraints as an area needing more attention and new development. As UASes become even more sought after and as their numbers increase, something must be done to help ensure that their much-needed capabilities are available to war fighters when needed. Frequency management and bandwidth availability are keys to the successful future of UAS operations; this paper recommends the employment of both short- and long-term actions as solutions. Technology promises to offer solutions to a number of UAS challenges, but that is not the only answer for spectrum and bandwidth availability. A very obvious answer to not having adequate frequencies or bandwidth (but one very difficult to execute) is to acquire more for use by the military, either permanently or temporarily. Unfortunately, treaties and international agreements control spectrum allocation on a global level and are neither easily nor quickly changed. Some future challenges can be alleviated by several possible alterations in the way spectrum-dependent systems are acquired, and changes in the testing of systems under development offer another possible answer to spectrum supportability. Moreover, better management tools could alleviate future challenges in managing frequencies and bandwidth. The success of future UAS operations depends on the availability of needed frequencies and bandwidth. Both short- and long-term solutions to current challenges are possible and must be implemented to mitigate the negative effect of these limited resources. The tremendous capabilities that these systems can bring to support the war fighter demand that we solve the current problems and meet the challenges presented by spectrum and bandwidth availability. Electromagnetic-spectrum constraints should not drive the future of UAS employment.
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