Exclusive: The technology empowering military and police services


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Colin Waite, UK Business Development Manager, Enterprise Control Systems explores innovations in data link technology and the importance of interoperable and collaborative communications.

In recent years, there’s been a proliferation of technology capable of providing real time, mission-critical situational data to support more advanced intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) across the military and police services.

In this context, data-collecting sensors are increasingly being used on smaller form factor platforms, like unmanned aerial vehicles (including drones), shifting the reliance away from rotary and fixed wing manned platforms – like helicopters – that are more complex and costly to deploy.

Accurate, real time sensor intelligence relies on Tactical Data Links (TDL), a technology that enables the fast and seamless exchange of data between platforms – like planes, drones and helicopters – and decision-makers in command centres. Data fusion ultimately combines real time data from multiple sources to provide a more accurate and consistent view, allowing more informed, quicker decisions and increased command and control capabilities.

It’s indisputable that the ability to receive high-quality live video and data has always been key for military and police services. However, now, more than ever, with more collaborative operations between services, not only is it essential to have interoperable voice communications, but also the ability to share situational information to resolve incidents efficiently and safely.

Challenges to effective data transmission

As the volume of data increases, it’s becoming challenging to meet the speeds and efficiency of the data exchange requirements; one of the biggest challenges is this speed and efficiency of data exchange, especially for aviation platforms. In this context, there are many considerations to achieve a faster transmission of sensor information, from spectrum and platform availability, to technology, encoders and security requirements.

The available frequency spectrum for data exchange is continuously being reduced. Therefore, military and police bodies across the globe are constantly looking at bandwidth efficiency within that spectrum. They must ensure they have the right protocols that allow for the vast amounts of data to be processed.

Furthermore, platform availability exposes challenges in where an asset may be located in comparison to where the information needs to be supplied or responded to. With encoders and protocols becoming more and more sophisticated, these are increasingly allowing teams to move more data within narrow bandwidths.

Additionally, as these rapidly evolve, they need to be widely adopted before being incorporated into new technologies. When considering data links, encoding and protocols must operate at a certain level of interoperability and standardisation in order to guarantee an effective data exchange.

As situations become more complex, so does the way military and police teams work with others. For instance, military, special forces, government agencies and civil security organisations increasingly work together to share information either for inter-agency or separate operations.

Each team has its own independent data exchange requirement which must remain encrypted and secure. Therefore, the ability to compartmentalise data allows each to access only the data required for their activity, while everything else remains encrypted and secure.

Intelligence gathering requires the ability to share information securely, especially where such large volumes of data are transferred in real time. When it comes to data links, data throughput can become vulnerable to attacks as the demands from sensors grow. Highly secure technology can mitigate this and ensure data security using sophisticated encryption software.

Encrypted footage to aid emergency response

Since February this year, the UK’s West Midlands Fire Service and West Midlands Ambulance Service have integrated data-receiver technology to enhance situational awareness, improve collaborative working across services and the National Police Air Service (NPAS), as well as assist in incident resolution.

To gain instant access to encrypted audio and video footage of live incidents, both emergency services integrated the portable Handyview monitoring terminal from Enterprise Control Systems onto command vehicles and in control centres. As a result, transmissions now come via video link equipment fitted on the NPAS’ fleet of 19 helicopters and four aeroplanes.

Gaining real time access to this intelligence is currently improving day-to-day decision making and, going forward, will ensure a faster and more collaborative response to critical incidents such as large-scale and industrial fires, flooding, road traffic collisions, monitoring crowds at large events and even aiding the search for missing people.

West Midlands is one of the first regions in the UK to adopt this capability, a natural progression from the services’ advanced technological capabilities and a testimony to their ongoing commitment to innovation which helps to ensure the safety of firefighters, paramedics and entire communities; this follows the Grenfell Tower fire inquiry report, which highlighted the importance of access to NPAS footage to help teams on the ground effectively coordinate and respond to major emergencies.

Today, Handyview complements both services’ existing drone capabilities and ensures crews can access live intelligence even when their drones can’t fly, for example, during poor weather conditions.

It’s also improving commanders’ situational awareness, allowing them to make better-informed operational decisions. This monitoring terminal allows short term and instantaneous monitoring and contains sophisticated decryption that ensures a high level of security. This means NPAS can authorise which West Midlands teams can access its video and audio transmissions of an ongoing incident – and when.

Innovating to maintain an effective data exchange

Technology is constantly developing to keep teams ahead and mitigate some of the above-mentioned challenges. For instance, small, lightweight, low-power and high-performance radio frequency (RF) data links are allowing teams the ability to go further in their ISR capabilities.

These data links also benefit from Software Defined Radio (SDR) technology, enabling the maintenance of a robust long range connection with rapid re-gain of the link and no restriction to a particular waveform. Depending on the concept of operations, military and police teams may be able to reroll this radio capability from a mesh capability to a “beyond-the-line-of-sight” long range capability, all on the same radio platform.

The ability to network-enable a platform is also a key area where technological developments rise to the challenge of these emerging requirements. By network-enabling a platform, like a UAS or rotary-wing, it then becomes an extension of the team’s secure IP network capability – including the same suite of services expected on a desktop setup. This is unique through bi-directional IP data links, meaning data fusion that takes place on an aircraft or UAV can be quickly, securely and reliably transmitted down to the ground and into a secure network. Ultimately, it becomes an extension of operations, which enables full services in the air as on the ground.

Regardless of these advancements, it’s key that technology solutions remain fully interoperable with legacy equipment. For instance, if a new capability is introduced, it’s imperative that it has full backwards compatibility, allowing all teams to manage a better upgrade path while optimising existing resources.

A device that embodies the above innovation and the trend towards smaller form factors is the Tove RF data link, designed specifically to take advantage of the growing UAV capabilities. When integrated into an unmanned system such as a drone, Tove can cost-effectively carry out ISR missions in air, sea or on land, in some cases requiring ranges of up to 100 kilometres. Delivered in a lightweight form factor with significantly reduced size, weight and power (SwaP), it also benefits from Software Defined Radio (SDR) technology, making it an optimal UAV data link.

Data link technology that integrates the latest innovations – including proprietary encryption – is not only empowering security forces across the globe with sovereign capabilities, but also ensuring the complete protection of their data whilst supporting safe and efficient incident resolution.

For more information, visit: www.enterprisecontrol.co.uk

This article was originally published in the August edition of International Security Journal. To read your FREE digital copy, click here.

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