Friend Or Foe? Micro-Mode 5 For NATO Small Drones

The MX12B Mode 5 IFF Micro Transponder

At just 6.4 oz, the Sagetech MX12B delivers full specification Mode 5 performance and FAA-compliant civil modes.

WHITE SALMON, Wash. November 27, 2018 – Sagetech Avionics, Inc., a maker of certified UAV avionics, this month demonstrated NATO Mode 5 encrypted interrogations/replies with a device weighing less than 6 ounces. The MX12B is an aviation transponder that enables small unmanned aircraft to interoperate in NATO military airspace, at minimal weight-cost. The event was hosted at a government facility near Patuxent River Naval Air Station by the “IMPAX” section of the Navy’s unmanned aircraft program office (PEO U&W), which is tasked with rapid acquisition of miniature Mode 5 technology for small U.S. military drones.

Congressional mandate requires U.S. armed services to upgrade their aircraft with NATO Mode 5 technology, but small unmanned aircraft struggle to carry heavy legacy transponders that weigh as much as 10 lbs. The Navy has long sought a lightweight Mode 5 transponder for use in its small drones, some that weigh only 40 lbs at takeoff. Sagetech’s MX12B transponder weighs 5.3 ounces, provides full specification performance, and includes the latest FAA-compliant civil modes for flight in both military and civil airspace.

Mode 5 is an air-combat identification system which positively distinguishes friendly from enemy aircraft, reducing fratricide. The technology employs spread-spectrum radio transmissions that are difficult for adversaries to intercept or jam and encrypts data with keys that change every few seconds.

The demonstration was attended by several unmanned military aircraft program offices: Fire Scout, Blackjack, ScanEagle, Shadow, Aerosonde, and Stingray. “All were highly impressed to see such a small package deliver full specification Mode 5 performance;” said Tom Furey, Sagetech’s CEO, “and the MX12B’s FAA compliance means military UAS can operate effectively in civil airspace as well.”

Sagetech is accepting orders for the non-certified MX12B, and for the military-certified version expected in fall 2020.  A non-certified civil MXS transponder with no export restrictions is available now. The FAA-certified MXS is expected in first quarter 2021.