Enerdyne Adds Technology to Thwart Possible UAV Eavesdroppers

2/26/09Follow @bvbigelow

I was a little surprised yesterday when Enerdyne Technologies, a subsidiary of Carlsbad, CA-based ViaSat, said encryption technology is now available for its digital data link systems to unmanned military surveillance aircraft.

Isn’t the video transmitted from robotic spy planes already encrypted?

Not necessarily, says Enerdyne general manager Steve Gardner. As it turns out, it’s possible to buy a standard commercial FM receiver used by TV news organizations and tune it to “eavesdrop” on the analog video signal transmitted by several different types of robotic aircraft used by the U.S. military. He says in the early years of UAV development, aircraft companies encrypted the digital electronics used to control UAVs, but “typically chose small analog transmitters” to broadcast video signals from the aircraft to ground units. That could be a problem if the eavesdroppers are U.S. adversaries in places like Afghanistan and Iraq. Gardner says whether that scenario should be a concern has become a hot topic of discussion these days in defense circles that are focused on the development and use of UAVs, or unmanned aerial vehicles.

Gardner says Enerdyne now has developed a module that can be installed aboard a UAV, between its camera and analog video transmitter. The module, which is a little bigger than a handheld calculator, digitizes and compresses the video signal so it can be encrypted without necessitating changes in the analog video transmitter aboard the plane or in U.S. equipment receiving the video signal on the ground. Enerdyne uses another module on the ground to decrypt the video signal.

“From the perspective of the FM equipment that they have on the airplane and on the ground, they can’t tell the difference,” Gardner says. The innovation reflects … Next Page »

Bruce V. Bigelow is the editor of Xconomy San Diego. You can e-mail him at bbigelow@xconomy.com or call (619) 669-8788 Follow @bvbigelow

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