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This article was Originally Published on Dec 06, 2003 in Volume: 2  Issue: 5

Finding the UAV Fit

Modeling and simulation helps Canada evaluate UAVs. The right tools help make the right choices.

By Dr. Paul Hubbard, Dr. Bumsoo Kim and Tobby Skeie

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The success of UAVs in recent military operations has generated considerable interest from many militaries around the world. In fact, there is growing interest in extending the use of UAVs to operations other than war, such as anti-terrorism support. Most will agree that the use of UAVs will increase significantly over the next two decades; however, the use of UAVs is not without risk. Unless a well-defined plan is put into place, the potential exists for militaries to rush into committing to a platform and its related infrastructure that will ultimately fail to meet their objectives.

To address this issue, in late 2002, the Canadian Forces began a project to conduct concept development and experimentation with UAVs. The objectives of this project are to evaluate the potential for UAVs to be used in service and to help the Canadian Forces develop expertise that would eventually lead to the purchase of UAVs. To support the concept development and experimentation project, Defence Research and Development Canada, Ottawa, (DRDC Ottawa) is making extensive use of modeling and simulation

technologies to support and improve the eventual acquisition process.

DRDC Ottawa is one of six research centers within the Defence R&D Canada organization, which is an agency of Canada's Department of National Defence. DRDC Ottawa works in partnership with other government departments, companies, universities, and research organizations worldwide to enhance Canada's

military strength and industrial preparedness. Before selecting an industry partner to assist in developing what is now called the UAV Research Test Bed, Lieutenant Colonel Steve Newton from the Canadian Forces Experimentation Center and DRDC Ottawa worked closely with Canadian Forces officials to establish six areas that needed to be addressed when evaluating UAVs:

  • Concept of Operations - How would the Canadian Forces potentially use UAVs?
  • Payloads - What might the UAVs carry, such as sensors or surveillance equipment?
  • Latency - Would there be any issues related to control and communication with the operator on the ground?
  • Human Factors - What potential human factor issues might operators confront?
  • Weapons - What weapon systems might the UAVs carry?
  • Platforms - What existing UAV platforms should the Canadian Forces consider?

To address these areas of investigation, DRDC Ottawa wanted to develop a synthetic environment to be used for evaluating various scenarios, identifying and improving capabilities, prototyping potential

systems, and ultimately supporting the acquisition process. The synthetic environment would become the virtual world in which DRDC Ottawa would conduct its evaluation and experimentation. CAE was selected to help DRDC Ottawa develop and deliver the UAV Research Test Bed using some of CAE's existing modeling and simulation development tools as well as new systems developed specifically for UAV applications.

The Canadian Forces have taken a deliberate approach to evaluating UAVs. The focus has been on identifying the capabilities required by the military, and then determining if UAVs are the solution required to meet the desired capabilities. With this philosophy, DRDC Ottawa has taken a four-phase approach to the development of the UAV Research Test Bed. The first phase, completed earlier this year, was designed to deliver a basic UAV research capability in an open, modular system framework. Using existing software and technologies, such as CAE's STRIVE simulation framework, the basic UAV Research Test Bed was created in several months. The basic test bed integrates a vehicle ground control station with a synthetic environment.

The ground control station (GCS), provided by CDL Systems, includes an air vehicle operator workstation, mission payload operator workstation, intercom system to support communications requirements, and visualization system to provide a view of sensor data. The GCS software has been employed for the control of operating UAV systems, in particular the U.S. Army Shadow 200 and Hunter. Through the standard high-level architecture protocol, the GCS interfaces to the synthetic environment, which currently includes generic models from CAE's existing library of sensors, air vehicles and other tactical environment features. The synthetic environment in phase one supports a range of simulated entities, and the capability exists to modify scenarios quickly, including modification of wind speed and direction.

Phase Two of the development of the UAV Research Test Bed is currently in progress and should be completed in the fall of this year. As part of this phase, the UAV Research Test Bed will be significantly enhanced to include specific functionality in both the GCS and synthetic environment. For example, the synthetic environment framework will be developed to support specific UAV platform characteristics and tuning of sensor models to specific sensors. Phase Two will also see the GCS enhanced to support a display capability for an infrared sensor image, as well as demonstration of compliance with the NATO UAV interoperability protocol (STANAG 4586).

Following the successful completion of phase two, DRDC Ottawa anticipates moving to the last two phases of the project to deliver a robust UAV Research Test Bed for the Canadian Forces. By the end of the project next summer, DRDC Ottawa expects the UAV Research Test Bed to have the capability of modeling specific UAV platforms and sensor payloads. The objective is then to evaluate various platforms in mission situations, such as coastal and urban surveillance, and nuclear, biological, and chemical detection. The UAV Research Test Bed also offers DRDC Ottawa scientists the unique opportunity to experiment with future research areas for UAVs, such as automatic target identification and autonomous decision-making.

The foundation for creating the UAV Research Test Bed is modeling and simulation technology. STRIVE architecture and simulation development framework is a next-generation, standards-based software architecture and development framework that is actually a full suite of tools and applications. Because STRIVE is a standards-based open framework, a range of systems and applications can be made interoperable and reusable. The STRIVE framework was ideal for the UAV Research Test Bed project because of its flexibility to support the growing and changing requirements anticipated by DRDC Ottawa as the project evolves.

The Canadian Forces UAV Research Test Bed project has allowed CAE, in partnership with DRDC Ottawa, to develop a product called the Reconfigurable Vehicle Control Station (RVCS). The RVCS is an integrated product that combines a vehicle operator station with a synthetic environment to support UAV research, training and operations. The vehicle operator station can be reconfigured to control either a real air vehicle in a live mission, or a simulated air vehicle in a synthetic environment. In the synthetic environment, the simulated air vehicles operate against simulated terrain, weather, and computer-generated forces and entities. STRIVE application is used as the simulation framework as well as the application to develop the computer-generated models.

Over the next several years, UAVs will see increasing use in a variety of applications. The UAV Research Test Bed project is designed to ensure the Canadian Forces have a disciplined and thorough understanding of UAVs before committing limited budgets and resources. The RVCS

product is designed to assist other potential UAV users to do the same. The basis for this low risk approach to UAV evaluation, acquisition and operation is modeling and simulation technology, which is now finding applications beyond traditional training systems and is being used extensively throughout program lifecycles. 

Drs. Paul Hubbard and Bumsoo Kim are with Defence R&D Canada in Ottawa. Tobby Skeie is director, Technology Application with CAE.

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