Remote control for unmanned vehicles

ONR develops one drone controller to rule them all

The Office of Naval Research has developed software that acts as a universal remote control for unmanned vehicles, whether they be in the air, on the ground or under water.

ONR’s Universal Character Set (UCS-2) will work across the military services, operate on any platform and can be superimposed on existing, proprietary systems, according to a report on the Defense Department’s Armed With Science website.The software is included in the Navy’s Common Control System, and is available for download from the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

“Someday in the near future you’ll have a sailor controlling an Air Force unit’s unmanned system, or an airman sitting at a desk controlling a naval unmanned system or a Marine controlling an Army platform,” Rear Adm. Matthew Klunder, chief of Naval Research, said in the report. “That’s the kind of ability we will have with this new Common Control System — that’s our future.”

UCS-2 gives operators control over all aspects of an unmanned vehicle, from navigation to payload, and will allow any unmanned vehicle to work with any other. A video about the system,  compares the software’s ability to function with any kind of unmanned vehicle to an app’s ability to run on any make of smart phone.

Operators to pull information from any unmanned vehicle in the theater into a tactical cloud that is accessible by all branches of the military, resulting in a more complete, transparent operational view of a geographic area, covering everything from the sky to undersea.

“In the future battlespace, I think we’re going to see a lot of unmanned systems in all domains — air, ground, sea and undersea — being used to feed the intelligence community, provide information to the tactical warfighter and act as a virtual wingman,” Klunder said.

Spending on military drones has jumped from $284 million in 2002 to over $3 billion in 2010, increasing the number of drones 40-fold, and is only likely to increase in the future, ONR said. For the most part, those unmanned systems have been individual, proprietary units from a variety of vendors, requiring separate control systems for each and producing data in diverse formats.

UCS-2 would simplify not only the operation of the vehicles but analysis of data, training for operators and the purchasing process, ONR said.

ONR tested the system in 2012 at the Naval Undersea Warfare Center using the Bi-Directional Remote Video Terminals in a simulated battle exercise involving six aerial drones and several warships and helicopters. The Office of the Secretary of Defense had given ONR the job of leading the effort for a universal controller, which was developed in conjunction with OSD’s Office of Strategic and Tactical Systems, the Naval Air Systems Command, Naval Undersea Warfare Center, Program Executive Office - Integrated Warfare Systems and PEO Unmanned Aviation and Strike Weapons.

About the Author

Kevin McCaney is a former editor of Defense Systems and GCN.


  • Records management: Look beyond the NARA mandates

    Pandemic tests electronic records management

    Between the rush enable more virtual collaboration, stalled digitization of archived records and managing records that reside in datasets, records management executives are sorting through new challenges.

  • boy learning at home (Travelpixs/

    Tucson’s community wireless bridges the digital divide

    The city built cell sites at government-owned facilities such as fire departments and libraries that were already connected to Tucson’s existing fiber backbone.

Stay Connected