Mode 5 Micro-IFF For Small Drones Takes Off

MX12B flight on RQ-26 Aerostar.jpg

RQ-26 Aerostar demonstrates micro-IFF capability with MX12B – preparing for takeoff.

WHITE SALMON, Wash. August 6, 2019 – Late last year, Sagetech Avionics successfully exhibited mode 5 capability on a low SWaP platform. We demonstrated the ability to receive and transmit encrypted messages with our MX12B micro-IFF transponder on the bench. We are the first and only to achieve this capability.

Now we’ve taken it to the next level – this week we demonstrated mode 5 capability once again, but this time in flight on a military Aerostar UAV.

During the flight demo on August 5th, the Aerostar UAV flew BVLOS and repeated a figure 8 flight pattern. While in flight we communicated with the transponder over the aircraft’s command and control (C2) link to configure it accordingly. We validated correct replies were received to mode 5 lethal and non-lethal interrogations. The MX12B was paired with the KIV-77 crypto computer to handle message decryption and encryption. We also validated the correct replies were received to modes 1, 2 and 3 interrogations. Lastly, we verified the civil functionality of our transponder (mode S, modes A/C and ADS-B in/out). “This flight demo marks a major milestone on the path to having the first AIMS certified mode 5 micro-IFF”, said Matt Hamilton, Sagetech Avionics’ CTO and lead engineer for the MX platform.

Mode 5 is an air combat identification system which positively distinguishes friendly from enemy aircraft. The micro-transponder enables small unmanned aircraft to interoperate in NATO military airspace, at minimal size, weight, power and cost. 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.

Fully-functional MX12B prototypes are available now. AIMS-certified MX12B are expected to ship beginning late spring 2020.