What are your biggest goals in the field of unmanned systems over the next few years?
ViaSat has a strong historical role in providing broadband communication capabilities on multiple manned intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) platforms. We see more of these ISR missions migrating to unmanned air vehicles (UAV), with the need to offload large amounts of sensor data in real time. Our goal is to provide communication equipment and services that satisfy the higher data rates and geographical diversity of these UAV ISR missions.
Where do you see the industry going in the next decade?
UAV platforms are flying farther, carrying higher fidelity sensors and demanding lighter payloads. We are working with multiple prime contractors who are developing and integrating ISR payloads on medium-altitude, long-endurance (MALE) platforms. These MALE platforms continue to decrease in size, with correspondingly smaller ISR payload packages. The sensor suites are migrating from standard-definition (SD) video to high-definition (HD) video, and the next logical progression is to ultra-HD (UHD) video. These higher data rate sensor suites will require higher communication data rates from the UAV platforms to ground entry points. UAV primes are interested in communication subsystem miniaturization and tighter levels of integration.
What role do you see your company playing in that future?
We will continue to develop cutting-edge communication capabilities for the UAV market, ranging from our line-of-site (LOS) EnerLinks III products to high data rate beyond-line-of-sight (BLOS) satellite communication (satcom) systems and services. As a leader in Ka-band commercial broadband satcom, ViaSat is planning to roll out a global network of high-throughput, high-capacity Ka satellite coverage that offers the highest performance in expanding geographical coverage areas. We continue to invest in antenna and modem technology that supports orders of magnitude improvement in communication data rates and the ability to roam between high-capacity Ka satellite networks and traditional Ku-band networks. Working with several primes, we’re also realizing tighter levels of integration between our communication subsystems, the overall ISR payload and the UAV platform subsystems. ViaSat is also evaluating smaller, lighter and more efficient communication subsystems. Reducing the size, weight and power (SWaP) of our subsystems allows for extended ranges and expanded payloads in the UAV platforms we support.
What do you see as major challenges to the unmanned systems industry?
The major challenge for U.S. contractors in the global UAV market is U.S. government export policy. A key limitation is that UAVs are tied to the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) originally intended for cruise missiles. We will continue to operate within those guidelines, but expect changes associated with the U.S. Export Control Reform and the reevaluation of policy toward UAVs.
What makes AUVSI membership attractive to your company?
AUVSI provides an excellent forum to showcase our communication systems and services for prospective UAV partners. ViaSat has been active for many years, and we have formed strong business relationships through our participation in many AUVSI events.