Pentagon Seeks Airborne ISR Alternatives

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The active, electronically scanned arrays (AESA) that have exponentially increased the range and power of radar and electronic attack systems in the last two decades are now being specialized for the massive transfer of data in split seconds – too fast for capture and analysis.

Large, thin, flexible AESAs are under development that can be applied to wings and fuselages that can be used as a directional communications device to send huge amounts of data in split seconds. That eliminates the danger of heat buildup and provides a foe with only an extremely fleeting blip of electronic activity that would likely be useless for detecting the source.

Technical advances are very closely held by aerospace companies, but key buzz words include “one-half and one-quarter duplex” as a way to transmit data faster. Dynamic diversity schemes specifically use phased array antenna systems to take advantage of beam-forming, multiple-input/multiple-output communications and space-time coding. The whole active AESA  will be dedicated to a high transmission rate – what specialists describe as a “real fat pipe” – for an extremely limited amount of time in a very specific direction.

Another key to using this type of rapid communications will be acceptance of the fact that all data coming into or out of the systems have to be encrypted and decrypted and examined for and cleaned of malware for penetration or exploitation before entering or leaving the ISR network.

“That was not done before,” says an aerospace industry AESA specialist. “Rapid encryption and decryption within networks is the newest challenge. You will have to encrypt everything if you are going to connect and share information in a high-risk environment,” he says.

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