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Airbus Defence and Space has described its interpretation of Concepts of Operation (CONOPS) associated with High Altitude Pseudo Satellite (HAPS) technology and special operations.

Addressing delegates at the Special Operations Forces Network Innovation Seminar (SOFINS) at Camp de Souge, France on 29th March, business development managers from Airbus Defence and Space explained operational scenarios which they considered relevant to its Zephyr HAPS technology.

The UK’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) is currently undertaking an Operational Concept Demonstrator effort to consider various CONOPS for its fleet of three Zephyr-S high altitude long endurance (HALE) unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) following the acquisition of a third air frame in August 2016. The MoD is understood to be studying communications relays as well as support of intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance (ISTAR) missions.

Airbus sales manager, Pierre-Alain Bosc described how Zephyr payloads were capable of covering areas of interest measuring up to 600km2 with capacity to monitor “mobile targets” at satellite-like resolutions down to 50cm. However, he also claimed that future developments could see resolution reduced yet further to as low as 10cm for a square kilometre in coverage area.

By 2019/2020, Zephyr HAPS will be able to remain over a zone for several months to send back real time imagery,” Bosc proclaimed while describing how the air frame would normally operate at an altitude of 70,000ft above ground level. Additionally, the HAPS could be capable of carrying additional payloads as they are miniaturised yet further with options including Synthetic Aperture Radar; Ground Movement Target Indication; and even foliage penetrating technology.

The company is also developing a twin-tail variant (designated Zephyr-T) which would increase payload capacity from 5kg up to 20kg, company sources explained to MILITARY TECHNOLOGY.

Describing emerging CONOPS relating to communications, Airbus Defence and Space officials explained how SOF required to remain “constantly connected” in danger areas, with space-based solutions providing the most efficient and quickest means of covering large areas of operation.

Referring to the company’s “Network in the Sky” concept, designed to ensure SOF remain “interconnected” with all assets across the battlespace, one company source described requirements for interconnected UHF, SATCOM, LTE and WiFi communications.

This requires a lot of management work and orchestration,” it was explained. “SOF don’t want to have to manage the network themselves so they need simple, ergonomic and effective terminals with reduced weight. Generally, we need to make it easier for them to operate.

Additionally, Airbus called for interoperability with allied forces from NATO, the EU, UK and US in particular with space-based communications capable of sponsoring LTE or Ka-band ‘bubbles’ via HAPS relays to satellites. 

Our terminals have been designed to respond to mobility requirements of SOF who need light weight equipment for high performance and duration. But we also need to bring communications as close as possible to SOF, so we are developing wireless links requiring little hardware,” it was added.

We are also looking at high security and discretion for SOF customers with directional low power and high capacity systems providing low latency and persistence,” it was explained with reference to products including the Ranger lightweight antenna; the ERDS optical laser link; Janus maritime antenna; and AirPatrol secure communications solution.

Andrew White

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