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Solutions to Manage the Expanding Volume of ISR Data

I recently read that approximately ninety percent of the total data in the world was created in just the last two years alone.  The DoD itself has an inconceivable amount of data from streaming video. The intelligence community finds itself inundated as data collection far outpaces analysis. Our industry is seeking ways to support efficient data collection since most of this data is relayed by satellite.  At XTAR, we are watching the issue closely because we support an increasing number of ISR-related requirements.  From an engineering standpoint, I believe data management must be addressed at a systems level in order to effectively pool assets. There are currently two main solutions using this approach, namely, multi-band terminals and on-board processing.

A systems approach itself should be the foundation of any hardware or software solution to manage data.  It is critical that all relevant parties are included (users, equipment manufacturers, system integrators, and satellite operators) to maximize the various parts of the whole.  (This holistic outlook is partially why XTAR, among many other commercial operators, advocates for the DoD to develop its space architecture in ongoing consultation with the commercial satellite industry if the DoD truly desires to maximize its space-based capabilities.) Developing standards throughout hardware and applications can result in efficiencies from many collaborators. Specifically, there are two important ways to mitigate the overwhelming flow of data.

First, airborne systems, both UAVs and manned AISR vehicles, should be equipped with multiband terminals to take advantage of multiple frequencies depending on user needs and regional conditions. Effective satellite coverage is dependent on many factors. There is no best frequency, only the best frequency for the situation.   If users are given the ability to transmit in multiple frequencies, they would have significantly more opportunities to repurpose expensive aircraft or generally diversify their options for use. This technology is beneficial whether applied onboard or on the ground.

The second technology I see offering real potential to improve data management is the notion of pooling bandwidth to transport data from the aircraft to the ground terminal.  Pooled, or ‘surge’, bandwidth is essentially a higher data transfer rate from aircraft to ground.  Capacity from multiple aircraft combined would create a powerful, but temporary, bandwidth surge. The idea is a natural extension to on-board processing which, as the name suggests, limits the volume of data transferred from an aircraft to a ground terminal.  The satellite industry should work together with the government to develop systems that can provide surge bandwidth.  Multiple aircraft perhaps from different programs requires common platforms – again a holistic approach – but the resulting efficiencies make sense both technologically and economically.

The DoD is focused on what to do next as both operators and analysts are in danger of being swamped by too much data. Simultaneously, the increasing reliance on airborne ISR has the potential to monopolize valuable bandwidth.  Taking the approaches suggested above will help ensure that bandwidth users have cost-effective coverage to meet various application requirements.