Enhanced Data Link to Enable High-Volume ISR

Enhanced Data Link to Enable High-Volume ISR

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A data link is an electronic connection for the exchange of information. It connects one location to another for the purpose of transmitting and receiving digital information. An improvement in two-way data link was recently achieved, when the ability to wirelessly transmit 100 gigabits per second over a distance of 20km (12.4 miles) was demonstrated by Northrop Grumman and the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). It reflects an improvement in two-way data links that the company claims could enable powerful airborne sensors to provide on-the-ground military personnel with nearly real-time intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance updates.

The two-way data link was demonstrated between two ground stations in Los Angeles as part of DARPA’s 100Gbps RF Backbone program. The data rate is fast enough to download a 50Gb Blu-ray video in four seconds. The transmission was not encrypted, says Northrop Grumman.

“This dramatic improvement in data transmission performance could significantly increase the volume of airborne sensor data that can be gathered and reduce the time needed to exploit sensor data,” says Louis Christen, director of Northrop Grumman’s research and technology. “Next generation sensors such as hyperspectral imagers typically collect data faster, and in larger quantity than most air-to-ground data links can comfortably transmit. Without such a high data rate link data would need to be reviewed and analysed after the aircraft lands.”

As part of the second phase of DARPA’s Backbone program, Northrop Grumman aims to demonstrate the transmission of up to 100Gbps over a 100km range using hardware flown aboard subsidiary Scaled Composite’s Proteus demonstration aircraft, according to flightglobal.com.

According to DARPA, the program is using millimeter-wave radio frequencies to produce spectral efficiencies at or above 20 bits-per-second per Hz. Computationally efficient signal processing algorithms are also being developed to meet size, weight, and power limitations of host platforms, which will mostly be high-altitude, long-endurance aircraft.