Ground Control: Drone Operators Ask Industry for 'Open' Systems

By Jean, Grace V. | National Defense, January 2009 | Go to article overview

Ground Control: Drone Operators Ask Industry for 'Open' Systems

Jean, Grace V., National Defense

The ground-based equipment that is used to fly unmanned combat aircraft is not adequate to handle the demanding missions of current conflicts, operators say.

Of most concern is the design and configuration of the control stations where pilots fly surveillance drones over combat zones thousands of miles away. Operators have said that the workstation displays do not provide sufficient views of their surroundings, and that the aircraft-control system does not allow them to fly more than one aircraft at a time.

Companies are reacting to these complaints with redesigned control stations that place operators in a cockpit-like environment. The new systems also are attempting to improve interoperability by conforming to open standards that facilitate communications with different types of aircraft. While progress is being made, there are still some hurdles.

One of the obstacles is that the manufacturers of unmanned aircraft and the makers of the ground equipment do not necessarily work together.

"We, the ground system providers, are being held hostage by the platform providers," says Mark Bigham, director of business development at Raytheon Tactical Intelligence Systems. "We are open and willing to be compliant and fly whatever the military wants us to fly."

Drone manufacturers have been reluctant to share their proprietary communications datalink formats with other companies. They produce ground stations that control only their specific aircraft, which means that the services often have to buy the complete package. That has proven cumbersome and inefficient because the equipment is not compatible with aircraft made by other manufacturers.

In an effort to encourage less "stove-piping," Congress has mandated that all unmanned aircraft weighing more than 45 pounds must transition to a tactical common datalink that will enable them to interoperate with various ground technologies.

There also is a movement to ensure that ground stations can communicate with multiple aircraft. War commanders want to be able to fly numerous drones from a single ground station, and in the Army's case, operators want to control different makes and models of aircraft as well.

"Our customers are forcing us to open standards," says Tom Bachman, divisional vice president for AAI Corp.'s One System programs.

AAI Corp., which manufacturers the Shadow and Hunter unmanned systems, modified its ground control station software to comply with a NATO standard agreement for interoperability between drones that is known as STANAG 4586.

Bachman says the STANAG architecture, which separates an aircraft's specific software from the common user interface, makes it easier to add new aircraft systems to the "One System" ground control station. Moving to that architecture has enabled the technology to control seven different types of unmanned aircraft.


The common user interface is analogous to Windows in the computer industry, he says. The aircraft specific software is similar to a printer driver that communicates with a certain type of printer. If the printer runs out of ink, its driver puts a message indicator on the screen. The same holds true for an unmanned system communicating through the ground control station via a vehicle-specific module.

The station recently completed several takeoff and landing tests of the Sky Warrior, the Army's newest drone that is based on the General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. Predator. That accomplishment demonstrates that the ground station can control an aircraft made by another manufacturer, Bachman says.

The Army plans to field five One System ground control stations to 11 Sky Warrior companies. Sky Warrior deploys to the Middle East later this year.

Air Force contractors also have made the workstation design a priority. General Atomics re-engineered its current ground control station for the Predator unmanned aircraft to improve the human-machine interface. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Ground Control: Drone Operators Ask Industry for 'Open' Systems


Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

    New feature

    It is estimated that 1 in 10 people have dyslexia, and in an effort to make Questia easier to use for those people, we have added a new choice of font to the Reader. That font is called OpenDyslexic, and has been designed to help with some of the symptoms of dyslexia. For more information on this font, please visit

    To use OpenDyslexic, choose it from the Typeface list in Font settings.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search


    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.