Solving the top three challenges in military streaming
Everyday mission critical ops are carried out using some of the most advanced military streaming technology, but there are several challenges to getting it right.
Challenge one: Low latency
Low latency is a particularly challenging in onboard transmission use cases, for example, when needing to access camera streams, radar, or turret imaging from onboard a vehicle, vessel, or airplane. For transmission on a vessel, a 10-megabit link will provide sufficient quality, but the real concern is the latency. If a military unit is imaging a plane with an optical gimbal on a turret, they must control and drive the turret. Latency becomes a challenge when, for instance, military personnel in an armored vehicle are driving only with the assistance of this video transmission. If the vehicle is driving at 70 kilometers per hour, every millisecond means 2 centimeters per second and 100 milliseconds is equal to 2 meters driven. If there’s an explosive device, the driver will see it two meters late, which can be catastrophic. In addition, a gimbal isn’t usable with a third of a second or 300 milliseconds of delay. For this reason, for driving and controlling devices such as a gimbal in ISR situations, ultra-low latency is a vital requirement.
Streaming solutions such as portable and mini encoders that engineered to provide less than 200 milliseconds of end-to-end latency answer the requirements for a variety of onboard transmission uses cases. Further still, ultra-low latency encoder/decoder solutions will deliver less than 15 milliseconds of latency of high-definition 60-image-per-second streams, making them ideal for driving devices/vehicles or transmitting true real-time information from screens, turrets, or radars.
Challenge two: Quality on low bandwidth/quality link transmission
Things become more complicated if images need to be transmitted via satellite, such as when transmitting from the theater of operations. Satellites can introduce many artifacts and latency because they are bouncing data 100,000 kilometers away and back and forth. A two-second latency link is not critical, but what is critical is the quality of service. Typically, military operations use line of sight (LOS), meaning a plane or drone, to transmit images a few kilometers away to the soldiers on the ground using a low latency link. The challenge is to transmit not only quality images but also STANAG 4609 metadata streams that provide additional information from pointing devices or vehicles, like target position, vehicle position, sensor information, and more. Further, these may need to be transmitted through various channels with limited to very limited bandwidth.
As video is transmitted through a link, they have to travel in the same order that they were sent. If any images are lost (packet loss) or transmitted in the wrong order (packet reordering), it results in a low-quality transmission with frozen images or image degradation. This can create poor quality of service that requires additional technologies to correct transmission defects. Solutions must be capable of transmitting not only a good quality image but with lowest possible latency (LOS or beyond line of sight), overcoming link quality constraints.
Encoders that are STANAG 4609 capable with a wide variety of metadata inputs will allow multiple devices and use cases to be handled. They deliver the lowest possible latency while overcoming bandwidth and link quality constraints with the use of additional error correction technologies to avoid transmissions errors such as packet loss links. In addition, solutions utilizing HEVC (H.265) are designed to enhance quality. HEVC is the successor of H.264 and utilizes 30 percent to 40 percent less bandwidth for the same quality. HEVC, in combination with FEC technologies, enable the transmission of HD images where previously only SD was allowed, using STANAG 4609 or similar metadata streams. These technologies provide valuable image flow fluidity for links experiencing over 30 percent packet loss.
Challenge three: STANAG 4609 metadata-enabled video
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 vital for sharing data between coalitions. The challenge here is to provide secured video streams to the soldier without compromising on latency, using STANAG 4609 streams for providing additional tactical information. A common scenario is when a plane is using a gimbal to transmit the feed to the satellite, and then the satellite has to transmit this feed to the ground and to the theater again. The data streams must be secure while still providing access over mobile devices with low latency and capable of converting incoming feeds to usable field information.
This calls for transcoding and video management solutions capable of securely distributing video streams, with or without STANAG 4609 imagery, to the theater level. For streaming to the soldier’s smartphone or tablet or feeding a local IPTV tactical setup, optimal transcoding solutions will be capable of converting streams, including a full STANAG 4609 stream to be converted between H.264 and HEVC, while providing additional formats that meet the requirements for security.
Middleware solutions designed for ground exploitation of STANAG 4609 streams and enables video stream to be recorded, played back, analyzed, annotated, and indexed based on metadata are perfect for image analysts working on drone or ISR imagery. A general-purpose IPTV solution, on the hand, will allow streams with or without STANAG 4609 enabled, to be deployed to any device, PC, tablet, or monitor, but it should still be capable of complete and automated control of encryption and user monitoring.
Some IPTV solutions feature mobile applications that are capable of transmitting not only AES-secured video streams to the soldier’s mobile device but also transmission of live images from the theater back to the HQ, allowing a soldier to overcome the limitations of typical mobile streaming. The app should allow users to easily and securely access live and on-demand full motion video and eliminate the 10 to 20 seconds of latency of traditional mobile devices by utilizing and optimizing the available military link.
Military operations require field-proven solutions that enable personnel to easily disseminate live feeds and recorded video assets in various bit-rates optimized 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 the theater, or to the theater.
Companies such as VITEC provide video solutions for onboard transmission with low and ultra-low latency video streaming; HEVC, FEC, and STANAG 4609 enabled solutions for fluid transmission of tactical videos; and transcoding and video management solutions for video streams distribution, including STANAG 4609 imagery to the theater level.