L-3 Communications (Hall 4 Stand 18, Chalet A16-18) is showing a new, handheld version of the Rover device that has rapidly become essential kit for allied ground troops directing airstrikes in Iraq and Afghanistan. The company has already delivered some 4,000 of the previous, laptop-size Rover 3 and 4 versions, which display video feeds from various airborne platforms. Last winter, Rover gained a British royal “seal of approval” when Prince Harry used one of the devices in combat in Afghanistan, during his short tour there as a forward air controller (FAC).
Rover stands for remote operations video enhanced receiver. According to L-3, it is essentially a software-defined radio that gives FACs (also known as joint tactical air controllers–JTACs) the same view of potential targets available to aircrew or unmanned aerial vehicle operators. The devices have been rapidly developed and fielded since 2002, when a U.S. Army Green Beret arrived unannounced at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and outlined the urgent need for troops-in-contact to enjoy shared situational awareness with the shooters flying overhead.
Two weeks later, he returned to Afghanistan with a prototype provided by Big Safari, the U.S. Air Force’s rapid procurement organization. Rover 1 was quickly followed by Rover 2, developed by General Atomics to relay images from the Predator UAV. Meanwhile, L-3’s Communications Systems West facility in Salt Lake City, Utah, set to work producing a more compact version that could also access video from other platforms using different datalinks.
Within 18 months, L-3 had produced Rover 3, based on a ruggedized laptop and capable of receiving Ku- and C-band digital signals, plus C- and L-band analog signals. That allowed JTACs and others in the field to view imagery from other UAVs, as well as from third-generation targeting pods such as the Litening. The system was fielded in 2005, and made its combat debut when troops in Fallujah, Iraq, directed a Predator strike with Hellfire missiles.
Next came Rover 4, which added more frequency bands and the facility for JTACs to electronically mark their desired targets on the imagery, before retransmitting it to the airborne platform. The UK Royal Air Force bought 40 of them; Australia, Canada, Italy, the Netherlands and Norway have also become customers. Prince Harry was one of a two-man tactical air control party that kept a Taliban position under observation for three days with the aid of a Rover device, before calling in two F-15s to drop 500-pound bombs. The Rover received imagery from a Desert Hawk mini-UAV and the Sniper pod on an RAF Harrier combat jet.
The new Rover 5 being shown here at Farnborough in model form should be available by the end of the year, according to Adam Boothby of L-3’s European office in London. “It’s essentially five software-defined radios in one box with built-in antennas, which adds more security, a UHF channel and full duplex capability in C, Ku, L and S bands as well, supporting data rates up to 44.73 Mbps,” he told AIN.
The box measures only 9.5 by 5.6 by 2.25 inches and weighs 3.5 pounds. The battery should last three to four hours, but the unit can also be DC- or AC-powered. Boothby admitted that the new device is likely to have less range than its predecessors, but he said external antennas can be added if necessary.
“Rover 5 should make a key difference to commanders, putting into their hands for the first time, in one small box, the ability to handle video, imagery and data–the tools for situational understanding,” Boothby added.