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Lockheed, Verizon trial 5G-enabled drone swarms for ISR missions

Photo: Lockheed Martin

Lockheed Martin and Verizon recently flew 5G-enabled drone swarms to capture and securely transfer high-speed, real-time intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) data from aircraft in flight to geolocate military targets.

The demonstration saw four rotary wing drones fly coordinated ISR missions while linked to two Verizon on site private network nodes – the technology that enabled the secure transfer of ISR data. The test occurred at Lockheed Martin’s 5G test range in Waterton, Colorado.

The flights showcased two critical applications for the US Department of Defense, the companies said.

The first was the transmission of real-time ISR radio frequency (RF) and streaming video data over 5G millimeter wave links to allow advanced signal processing algorithms to be executed at the tactical edge. The data was displayed in a livestream video feed. This capability will provide enhanced levels of situational awareness and command & control (C2) for commanders and service members in the field.

The second is that the technology passively detected and geolocated RF signals that could be used for communications, sensing, or jamming. This would enable the US military to detect and target adversarial assets in a military environment.

According to Lockheed, the drones successfully located a target in the field that was transmitting a low power RF signal. The signal was detected because real-time drone sensing data was transmitted over a private Verizon 5G Ultra Wideband network and then processed by signal processing algorithms running on edge compute resources, enabling geolocation of the signal source.

Held in May and September 2022, the flights are part of an ongoing 5G collaboration announced by the companies last year focused on faster delivery of new technologies to the Pentagon. Lockheed added that commercial company collaborations like this are part of its “21st Century Security vision to accelerate the delivery of cutting-edge technologies to US military customers.”

“To stay ahead of our adversaries, military decision-makers need the timely and accurate information that 5G.MIL delivered in this demonstration. By blending advanced commercial 5G capabilities with military capabilities using secure, open standards, we are helping to make the DOD’s vision for integrated deterrence a reality,” Dan Rice, vice president of 5G.MIL programs at Lockheed Martin, commented.

“Verizon is the network America relies on, and our Private 5G Ultra Wideband networks provide the security, reliability, capacity and low latency that the defense sector depends on. By demonstrating the mission critical connectivity that our network provides, we are demonstrating how 5G and edge computing can help the DOD address their strategic priorities and continue to develop advanced solutions,” Srini Kalapala, senior vice president for technology and product development at Verizon, said.