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Today, unmanned aerial systems (UAS) typically require multiple payloads with dedicated components, including antennas, radio frequency (RF) circuitry, and processors, to conduct communications, radar, and electronic warfare (EW) missions. These single-function payloads can’t be installed on a compact UAS at the same time because of the size, weight, and power (SWaP) constraints of these platforms, limiting what they can do without swapping payloads on the ground — a process that seriously hinders mission efficiency.

Now, a new effort would yield a solution to this problem. Under two recently awarded contracts from DARPA (the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) worth a combined $5.4 million, BAE Systems is developing technology that will enable compact UAS to conduct multiple mission tasks with single, multifunction payloads that can adapt to changing battlefield situations and mission needs in real time.

“This agility is particularly important in denied environments, where multiple mission functions are typically needed to penetrate defenses and remain operational,” Randall Lapierre, technology development manager at BAE Systems was cited on the company’s website. “By enabling small platform systems to share core components, we’re helping them become more agile and stay on station longer.”

DARPA’s program, called CONverged Collaborative Elements for RF Task Operations or CONCERTO, focuses on supporting communications, radar, and EW systems with a flexible RF architecture that uses shared common hardware, enabling multifunction systems that meet the low-SWaP requirements of compact UAS.

The converged systems will be able to efficiently switch between intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance; command and control; networking; and combat operations support missions without physical payload changes.

BAE Systems will focus on maximizing the RF capabilities of the hardware (i.e., bandwidth, frequency, distance, and field of view) to ensure that all missions can be accomplished from the same components.

The company is also developing a flexible, virtual RF processing engine that can be reconfigured to quickly support diverse and simultaneous operating modes.