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Time for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles to Shine

Sept. 2, 2021
Unmanned aerial systems have become more critical than ever in maintaining vigilance over global trouble spots.

This Microwaves&RF article is reprinted here with permission.

If you pay any attention to the news at all, then you’re surely aware of the recent upheaval in Afghanistan, where the Taliban have seized power by capturing Kabul, a city of some 6 million people, almost without firing a shot (except at a few protesters here and there, but that’s another story). This feat was accomplished, it seems, by roughly 500 Taliban fighters. How do we know how many Taliban fighters were involved in this siege?

Much of what we know about extremely dangerous and chaotic places like Kabul comes from our “eyes in the skies,” namely satellite surveillance and, increasingly, unmanned aerial systems (UASs) that patrol places like Afghanistan from high altitudes. Scenes of this sort bring UASs into sharp relief; they’re the topic of our September issue’s cover story written by Contributing Editor and long-time industry veteran, Jack Browne.  

UASs such as Raytheon Technologies’ Coyote and Lockheed Martin’s Bat collect vast amounts of data from multiple distributed sensors using radar signals or infrared energy. That data comprises invaluable intelligence regarding the whereabouts and capabilities of potential threats (like a Toyota pickup full of Taliban fighters). To be actionable, that data must be gotten into the hands of analysts in near real-time. That’s where technologies like mmWave, active electronically scanned array (AESA) antennas, and multiple-input, multiple-output (MIMO) antennas come into play.

These UASs are insanely complex, often comprising platforms that provide as many as four sophisticated functions—electronic warfare, electronic countermeasures, communications, and radar—in a form factor that once contained just one such function. With all that data being collected and disbursed from a single system, security is of paramount concern. Jack’s cover story delves into the cybersecurity concerns surrounding today’s UASs as they handle such sensitive data.

Further on the topic of unmanned aerial vehicles, our Editorial Director, Bill Wong, recently visited Atlanta for the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems Internationals’ (AUVSI’s) Xponential 2021 exhibition and conference. His coverage of the event, replete with lots of videos of extremely sophisticated UASs, is aggregated in a digital magazine on our website. Bill reports that the event emphasizes technology geared toward commercial and military markets. If it’s consumer-oriented drones you’re interested in, you’ll have to wait for next year’s Consumer Electronics Show.

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