Select a UAS that is able to operate Beyond the Line of Sight Operations (BLOS) and describe in detail how this is accomplished.
The Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) chosen to be analyzed is The MQ-4C Triton UAS manufactured by Northrop Grumman. This unmanned aerial system is part of the U.S Navy’s Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) program which is designed to enable the U.S Navy with real-time intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capability over the vast ocean and coastal regions (NAVAL AIR SYSTEM COMMAND, 2016).
The system comes complete with onboard line-of-sight and beyond-line-of-sight data-link systems used to enable the air vehicle to share data from the air vehicle to its ground control stations for the purpose of the mission outcome. According to NAVAIR (2014), a minimum of two Command and Control (C2) link is required to achieve beyond-line-of-sight (BLOS) operations with the MQ-4C Triton UAS. One link is used as its primary means of communications and the other is reserved as a backup link in the event that the primary link fails. BLOS is established using a narrow band of satellite communication (SATCOM) frequency that together enables the MQ-4C Triton UAS to relay its position at all times. Based upon procedural requirements, beyond-line-of-sight operations are supported by a two-person crew in the MQ-4C Triton. One person serves as the air vehicle operator responsible for its control and movement, and another serves as a payload or sensor operator responsible for capturing data sensitive materials that are critical to mission outcome. (NAVAIR, 2014). A qualified aircrew operator will fly the air vehicle (with Line of Sight) from the ground station safely to a pre-determined point along the flight path, where Command and Control (C2) is passed to another remote station operator to supervised the beyond-line-of-sight operations (BLOS) until the mission is complete.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of this method of operation as opposed to Line of Sight (LOS)?
There are several advantages and disadvantages to operating the MQ-4c Triton beyond-line-of-sight (BLOS) as opposed to Line of Sight (LOS). One main advantage of beyond-line-of-sight operations is that it allows for remote operations anywhere within the globe. BLOS operation can support missions that are relatively far from its ground stations. This is partly due to the fact that the MQ-4C Triton can remain airborne for 24 hours a day, seven days a week with 80% Effective Time on Station (ETOS) (GLOBAL SECURITY INTELL, 2016). It offers the flexibility to be present at any requested theater from the comfort of a stationary ground control station. Also vice versa, there are some disadvantages to operating the MQ-4C Triton beyond-line-of-sight operations. There is a high probability that the UAS signal may become jammed, loss, or even intercepted by the enemy during BLOS operations. UAS BLOS signals are prone to latency issues because of the many layers of the relay system that the signal has to constantly pass through (Barnhart, Shappee & Marshall, 2011). This can compromise the BLOS operation, the mission, the air vehicle, people and or property.
What unique human factors issues arise when UAS operators are required to switch from LOS to BLOS and conduct operations?
Since operators are not always situated within the same state, country or building, there is a potential to experience degraded situational awareness when switching operators from Line-Of-Sight (LOS) to Beyond Line-Of-Sight (BLOS) in the MQ-4C Triton operations. According to Tvaryanas (2006), procedural errors and/or improper configurations often occur when switching controls between control stations in UAS operations. This crucial part of the operations has accounted for its fair share of UAS related accidents in the past. Such was the case with the incidents involving the Customs Border Patrol (CBP) Predator B UAV that crashes in the Arizona desert during operation. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) report from that incident concluded that an improper configuration was ultimately the resulting effect of the UAS crash.
Are there any commercial applications for BLOS operations that would encourage the private sector to pursue UAS with this capability? If so, what are they?
The collective years of technological improvement have allowed for UAS to gain popularity in the civilian sector. Civil UAS or Drones have been rapidly advancing proving to be extremely viable in places where a man cannot reach or is unable to perform in a timely and efficient manner. This because the UAS platforms allows for precisions in applications that are repetitive, dull, dirty and dangerous (DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE, 2013). Applications such as rush hour deliveries, Agriculture services, Aerial Mapping, firefighting, land conservation, forest mapping, search and rescue, and monitoring make commercial applications for BLOS operations a sensible venture for UAS in the civilian sector. If this is not reason enough, it is estimated that the economic impact of commercial drones could be $82 billion with a 100,000 job boost to the U.S. economy by 2025 (Joshi, 2017).
Barnhart, R. K., Shappee, E., & Marshall, D. M. (2011). Introduction to Unmanned Aircraft Systems. London, GBR: CRC Press. Retrieved fromhttp://www.ebrary.com.ezproxy.libproxy.db.erau.edu
DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE. (2013). Unmanned Systems Integration Roadmap Fy2013-2038. Retrieved from http://archive.defense.gov/pubs/DOD-USRM-2013.pdf
GLOBAL SECURITY INTELL. (2016). Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS). Retrieved from http://www.globalsecurity.org/intell/systems/bams-program.htm
Joshi, D. (2017, July). Exploring the latest drone technology for commercial, the industrial and military drone uses. Business Insider, 27(3).Retrieved from: http://www.businessinsider.com/drone-technology-uses-2017-7
NAVAL AIR SYSTEM COMMAND. (2016). Persistent Maritime UAS. Retrieved from http://www.navair.navy.mil/index.cfm?fuseaction=home.displayplatform&key=f685f52a-dab8-43f4-b604-47425a4166f1
Tvaryanas, A. P. (2006, February). Human factors Considerations in the Migration of unmanned aircraft system (UAS) operator control. Document No. HSW-PE-BR-TR-2006-0002. Retrieved from http://www.wpafb.af.mil/shared/media/document/AFD-090121-046.pdf