DoD wants plug-and-play UAS


Plug-and-play could be the key to a Department of Defense effort designed to set common technical guidelines for unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) control systems and the software programs that drive them. At the core is NATO Standard Agreement 4586 (STANAG 4586), an international standard encompassing the various protocols and ways of writing software code for unmanned aircraft, their autopilots, payloads and related messaging.

CDL Systems, a Calgary, Canada-based vendor Lockheed Martin acquired in December 2012, crafted its Vehicle Control Station-4586 software with the goal of supporting this standard. A key feature is an integrated video suite displaying electro-optical/infrared video and relevant metadata in real time. CDL recently integrated seven distinct services into the core program: Blue Force situational awareness, cursor-on-target, weather, video stream catalog, vehicle flight status and sensor C2.

Each of these features was developed using the DDS Middleware databus and agile, a software development strategy that requires the vendor to deliver a new feature to the customer every two weeks. VCS-4586 is now in daily use with forward-deployed units of the Army, serving as the control system for the Shadow, Hunter and Gray Eagle UAVs. The product is also under development for the MBDA Fire Shadow loitering munition system slated for the British Army’s Royal Artillery regiment.

“We were pioneers with STANAG 4586 and now our goal is to develop a family of UAV control systems that run on our software,” said Sergio Menchaca, business development manager at Lockheed Martin CDL Systems’ U.S.-unit based near the Army’s Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama. “The Army’s come the farthest, and now the Navy is coming along with its CCS [Common Control System] competition. We’re way ahead in terms of development.”