New Army Drones Can Build Their Own Networks


The Shadow, a mainstay of US Army drone operations, is about to be replaced. The Shadow first flew in 1991 as part of the Army’s Future Tactical UAS program. Over the three decades since its first flight, the Shadow’s design has been improved by using lighter materials, upgrading the communications system and even the battery life. However, the numerous upgrades could only do so much. This is mainly because the Army is still restricted by the fact that the Shadow needs a runway or a special combination of a rail and a hook to take off and land. The Resolute Eagle, a drone created by PAE ISR, is one of the drone designs that promises to replace the Shadow.

The Army is still considering a number of possible drone designs. The Resolute Eagle stands a good chance of winning the position but it faces stiff competition from ScanEagle by Insitu, and Martin UAV’s V-Bat. The Resolute Eagle can be recognized by its VTOL design which features booms and rotors attached to the drone’s wings which allow it to lift off and land vertically like a quadcopter. The VTOL’s battery lasts for 12 hours and can be pushed for up to 18 hours with the booms detached.

Beth Beach, PAE ISR’s VP of business development, stated that the Resolute Eagle was designed specifically to replace the Shadow. They believe that their design’s reconfigurable platform gives it the flexibility to accomplish several mission types including carrying heavy loads. The Resolute Eagle’s VTOL design means that its users will require less ground support when deploying it.

PAE ISR wants their drone to be used in a number of fields. They expect that law enforcement will be interested in their design, and so too will commercial and humanitarian missions. Some of the more specific jobs that they see the Resolute Eagle being used for include inspecting pipelines, assessing an area after a natural disaster, and aiding in search and rescue. The Resolute Eagle is perfect for such missions because it is able to operate beyond the operator’s line of sight.

Allowing drones to fly beyond the operator’s line of sight enables the operators to set up a communications network when satellite communications are not practical or available. The drones can be equipped with the tools necessary to build an ad hoc network to keep communication channels open. On the Resolute Eagle, this communications network is known as MANET.

Communication systems using MANET are easy to deploy. The network is kept secure by AES 256-bit encryption to ensure that access to the network’s communications is restricted. The MANET network has proven itself capable of connecting with drones that are more than 130 miles away. The US Naval Air System Command is clearly impressed by the Resolute Eagle design because they awarded PAE ISR a $1.73 billion contract.

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