There are two ideas behind the concept of push-button warfare. The first is ease. A drone, for example, can be controlled with a few lines of computer code and a joystick by a pilot who is sitting thousands of miles away. Ease of use, however, is nothing without being matched by accuracy.
A drone requires an on-board camera that guides the pilot to the target. The feed from that camera to the screen facing the pilot has to be crisp and clear, especially over long distances. Only then can the mission be executed.
Supplying the hardware that encodes and transmits that video is one of the many services that VITEC supplies to its clients in the defence sector. Founded in 1988, the French company specialises in end-to-end video streaming, not only for military, but also for industrial and commercial applications. VITEC began working with the military ten years ago through supplying hardware and software for drones.
"We also started on some custom designs," says Jean Visconte, one of VITEC's leading sales managers. "I cannot disclose so much about these, but it was related primarily to intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR). In 2010, we started to produce some new applications for that area, and began work on the development of other products, including ruggedised encoders, such as the MGW Pico TOUGH, MGW Nano TOUGH and MGW Diamond TOUGH."
VITEC's encoders are the pride of its military product range. The MGW Pico TOUGH, for example, is one of the world's smallest MPEG-4 H.264 HD/SD video encoders. Its small size enables it to support video streaming from the toughest environments a combat zone might offer. The company also manufactures full-motion video viewers, ISR archiving systems and bespoke internet protocol TV (IPTV) solutions. At the Dryden Flight Research Center in Edwards Air Force Base, a VITEC IPTV solution has enabled NASA to expand its broadcasting capabilities at no cost to the reliability or quality of the signal being used.
"We also sell to military clients across the globe," says Visconte. "One of our biggest customers in North America is the US military. We sell to the armed forces in France, and also to the German, British and Israeli militaries. VITEC also sells to various security forces in China, Singapore and Thailand."
Ultimately, what makes VITEC unique lies in its ability to advise its military clients on the right solution to suit their purposes, and their facility in relation to customising their standard products for military use. "For instance, nowadays we are heavily involved in providing our clients with encoders working with the STANAG 4609 format," Visconte explains. "This is a show-stopper for many of our military customers because it's come into greater use in Europe and the US. It's become mandatory in many cases because we're living in a dangerous world, where every army has to cooperate with the other military in a coalition seamlessly."
The ability to supply the best solution for the most critical application has been key to the company's success in the defence sector - and that commitment is still yielding positive results.
"We recently achieved a breakthrough in video transmission by introducing the HEVC encoding format, which stands for High Efficiency Video Coding," says Visconte. "It's a new format that allows the user to view high-quality footage at only 30-50% of the bandwidth. This is really appreciated by our military clients because they use very constrained video links via satellite, mobile or 4G in some cases to transmit clear and crisp images."
It is the natural result of VITEC's heavy investment in its R&D arm. "A key reason why our customers appreciate us is our ability to advise them," Visconte adds. "But the reason we are able to advise them is because we are ahead of the current technology. We have already begun to participate in new projects involving HEVC coding, but we are already working on a new standard to make sure that we will be able to provide the best mix of technology for the greatest need in the future."