Delivering live, real-time, video in the ISR arena is challenging for many reasons, not least because the timely delivery of critical imagery can be a matter of success or failure. Alongside this, there are many practical issues to be overcome in these environments; equipment vibration, extreme temperatures and humidity, as well as the unique demands that are thrown up when unmanned units are involved. Taking all this into account, the task is how to deliver the best image quality in a timely fashion, on limited communication bandwidth, while solving interoperability issues - on board at forward operating bases, as well as at HQ and beyond.
In the main, mission critical ops are carried out using some of the most advanced sensor technology currently available. However, there are often limitations around available bandwidth, image quality and latency - the challenging ‘Video Triangle’. By using the right video-over-IP equipment, these constraints can be overcome and achieve the correct balance.
Distributing video information in the past required specialized, dedicated equipment making it costly and cumbersome to deploy. Include the many different types of cameras, downlink stations, sensors and display devices required, and the management costs in both time and personnel can quickly escalate.
One of the important factors to stress to anyone considering implementing video-over-IP, is that it doesn’t mean legacy equipment is redundant – there’s no need to throw the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak. It is possible to use existing technology and retrofit video-over-IP equipment to reap the benefits of superior image quality and improved workflow. The benefits unleashed include an improved video quality that stands up to global dissemination, transmitted images no longer being constrained by local networks, and a new, more efficient workflow and decision-making process. Furthermore, there is a simultaneous reduction in operating costs whilst at the same time providing more detailed information which is available for delivery in real-time to locations that are local, LoS (line of sight) and BLoS (beyond line of sight).
Latency is the delay between what the camera sees and what is then viewed on a remote display anywhere in the disseminated sensory grid. Historically, this delay has prevented localised encoding and streaming of high-quality imagery from the field environment. Latency is critically important as it affects:
- Gimbal operation
- Cursor on Target
- Tactical decision making
- Correct navigation
- Accurate Observation
All the above require accurate and real time video with minimal or no delay. It can be a particular challenge when, for instance, military personnel in an armoured vehicle are operating with the assistance of video transmission alone. In this type of operation, decisions must be made in real time to be effective. An example could be a military vehicle driving at 60 kilometres per hour and covering 16 metres per second. Physically, things are moving fast and every millisecond counts! Ultra-low latency is therefore a vital requirement.
Today portable and mini encoders are engineered to provide less than 200 milliseconds of end-to-end latency. This performance meets the criteria for a variety of onboard transmission use cases. Further still, ultra-low latency encoder/decoder solutions will deliver less than 16 milliseconds of latency of high-definition 60-frames-per-second streams, making them ideal for navigation, vehicles or transmitting true real-time information from screens, turrets, or radars.
ISR Military operations are expensive and if the cost is to be justified, quality imagery is essential. Images with jitter and other artifacts offer a poor ROI. Offering full 1080p60 Full Motion Video (FMV) is more than just desirable, it is paramount to successful missions. Being able to compare imagery and FMV from previous missions, and sharing it between internal and external partners throws up details that have been elusive in the past. Quality imagery combined with no loss of FMV due to communication constraints, leads to effective and productive missions.
Likewise obtaining an image with less definition in modern ISR is less than useless, considering the capabilities of today’s modern sensors and the move towards deeper and richer imagery such as 4K.
Pushing Video across IP requires the RAW video to be encoded and compressed into a data stream, typically using standard codecs. In the past, legacy codecs, many of which are still in use in today’s encoders, relied on a linear relationship between quality, latency and bandwidth utilisation. This resulted in having to compromise on all three elements of the ‘video triangle’. Advances in codec optimisation enable the video over IP of modern encoders to compress the video even further, resulting in lower need for bandwidth, whilst increasing quality and reducing latency – all vital in improving performance.
STANAG is the standard dictated by NATO, and it is an enabler for communication of video and tactical data. This standard provides a common video language standard that is critical for sharing data between coalitions. The challenge here is to choose products that enable secured video streams to the operator without compromising on latency, whilst also ensuring STANAG 4609 compliancy, providing additional tactical metadata.
Fortunately, this is now commonplace on most Commercial Off The Shelf (CoTS) encoders and decoders designed for the military market place. This harks back to the need to not change the complete workflow but instead backfill technology into legacy systems, and if necessary different codecs, whilst maintaining the uninterrupted metadata and FMV flow.
An example of this could be the utilisation of highly efficient codecs from UAS to command, but then transcoding the same FMV to operate on field equipment such as mobile devices, which typically don’t support the High Efficient Video Codec used to minimise bandwidth communications from air to ground.
Middleware solutions designed for ground exploitation of STANAG 4609 streams, enabling video streams to be recorded, played back, analysed, annotated, and indexed based on metadata are perfect for image analysts working on drone or ISR imagery. A general-purpose IPTV solution, on the other hand, will allow streams with or without STANAG 4609 enabled, to be deployed to any device, PC, tablet, or display, but it should still be capable of complete and automated control of encryption and user monitoring.
Military operations require field-proven solutions that enable personnel to easily disseminate live feeds and recorded video assets in various bit-rates optimised for the specific network link available. Streaming solutions should be designed to overcome the major military video streaming challenges for the major use cases within operations, whether onboard a vessel or vehicle, from and to the theatre.
ISR Video is an operational requirement, and in fact a necessity, not a nice-to-have. Its demands now reach beyond the first user and so it is critical that:
- sharing is in real time
- user access rights to control video access are maintained
- video is available on multiple displays/devices
- recording content can be enabled for future use
Today’s modern ISR requirements need a finely-tuned balance between quality, bandwidth utilisation and latency. Technology today allows the end user to redefine the balance, honing the equation to suit their needs whilst experiencing better, compliant FMV. Video specialist companies such as VITEC strive to provide leading edge, technologically superior video solutions for onboard transmission with low and ultra-low latency video streaming. These include HEVC, FEC, and STANAG 4609-enabled solutions for fluid transmission of tactical videos, and transcoding and video management solutions for video streams distribution, enabling modern ISR communities to concentrate on the mission at hand.
For more information visit VITEC at DSEI 2021, London Excel 14-17 September on Stand H6-162.A full line of VITEC products is available at www.vitec.com.