In 1998, a NATO Specialist Team comprising members of government and industry (including CDL Systems) began work on NATO Standardization Agreement 4586 (STANAG 4586), a document conceived to standardize UCS interfaces to help enable UAV systems interoperability. The document defines architectures, interfaces, communication protocols, data elements, and message formats. It also identifies related STANAGs that compliance with is required in order to operate and manage multiple legacy and future UAVs in a complex NATO Combined/Joint Services Operational Environment.

NATO identified the need for standardization to promote interoperability between tactical UAS systems amongst the allied forces. This would enable asset sharing by allied nations, allow for increasingly network-centric operations, and diversify UAS concept of operations (CONOPS). This standard also identifies five levels of interoperability (LOI) to accommodate operational requirements.The respective operational requirements and approved CONOPS will determine or drive the required LOI that the specific UAV System will achieve.

CDL Systems has been a leading participant and pioneering member of the development of STANAG 4586 since its inception. Our commitment to this and other NATO standards has allowed CDL Systems to lead the charge in unmanned vehicle interoperability with the U.S. Army's unmanned tactical assets.

STANAG 4586 is currently in its second edition, promulgated in November of 2007.

The Need for Interoperability

Traditionally, unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) have been developed as vehicle centric designs. System manufacturers have focused on airframe designs and have typically developed the ground control station (GCS) component as a tool for flight-testing the airframe. This has led to a lack of standardization between dissimilar systems and the use of proprietary telemetry and sensor data streams. Consequently, systems lack the ability to interoperate with each other.

The Benefits of Interoperability

Interoperability greatly increases the efficiency and capability of armed forces in a NATO Joint/Combined Service Environment, through sharing of assets and the use of common information generated by UAV systems. By enabling the interoperability of multiple vehicles from a common STANAG 4586 GCS, operators can operate multiple UAVs of various types with widely different performance characteristics and features.

Levels of Interoperability

The result of standardization creates different levels of interoperability (LOI). The levels are the degree of control that a user has over the air vehicle, payload or both. The document defines five LOI:

  • Level 1: Indirect receipt/transmission of UAV related data and metadata. 
  • Level 2: Direct receipt/transmission of UAV related data and metadata.
  • Level 3: Control and monitoring of the UAV payload, not the unit.*
  • Level 4: Control and monitoring of the UAV without launch and recovery.*
  • Level 5: Control and monitoring of the UAV including launch and recovery. *

 *Unless specified control (C) or monitor (M) only.

Vehicle Specific Module (VSM)

A VSM is a software function that provides the unique/proprietary communication protocols and data formats that a specific UAV requires. The functions of a VSM include:

  • To provide “translation” of standardized STANAG 4586 messages from the CUCS to the air vehicle and vice versa, via the DLI. 
  • Pack and unpack data to optimize transmission bandwidth.
  • Acting as a database of vehicle specific data.
  • Managing interfaces for control and monitoring of data link operations
  • Managing interfaces for control of launch and recovery systems of its associated vehicle. 

Since VSMs are vehicle specific, it is generally the vehicle manufacturer's duty to provide it. However, UCS developers or third party developers can also provide VSMs. If the data links used by the vehicle are STANAG 4586 compatible, a VSM is not necessary, as it will interface directly with a STANAG 4586 compatible UCS.

As a software function, VSM’s can be located either in the UCS or Air Vehicle mainframes. A VSM will allow the integration of older systems without great changes to air vehicle hardware. Also, VSMs will allow the integration of newer UAV systems into existing UCS with the provision of the VSM.

UCS Funtional Architecture

STANAG 4586 specifies the functional architecture of a UAV Control System (UCS).This architecture establishes the following functional elements of the system and their companion interfaces:

  • Core UCS (CUCS)
  • Data Link Interface (DLI)
  • Control Command Interface (CCI)
  • Vehicle Specific Module (VSM)
  • Command and Control Interface Specific Module (CCISM)
  • Human Computer Interface (HCI)


STANAG 4586 Compliance

There is not yet a governing body that certifies STANAG 4586 compliance for UAV systems.

UAS Architectural Overview

STANAG 4586 specifies the following structure for UAV systems. It is comprised of three components:

Component 1: UAV

  • Air vehicle element: consists of avionics and propulsion systems required for flight management.
  • Payload element: consists of payload packages either weapon load outs or sensor arrays.

Component 2: Surface Unit

  • UCS element: can be located in any platform, has special elements to communicate with C4I systems.
  • Launch/Recovery element: vehicle specific equipment for launch and/or recovery of the air vehicle.

Component 3: Data Link

  • Air Data Terminal (ADT), module found on the air vehicle to process the DLI.
  • Ground Data Terminal (GDT) located on the control station to process the DLI.
  • Data Link Interface (DLI) Interface between air vehicle and control unit.


Additional Information

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