Just got a note that the innovative UAV design company Aerovironment has won a contract to provide a hand-held UAV for the special operations forces. The AE Puma is an upgrade from the RQ-11 Raven and sports IR and electro-optical cameras (spec sheet). It's got a range of 10 miles and an eight-foot wingspan.
According to a release on the contract:
The hand-launched Puma AE lands near-vertically on both land and water and is equipped with a day- and night-capable, waterproof sensor package that provides image tracking, image stabilization and high-image quality. Puma AE systems incorporate the same hand-held Ground Control Unit used by U.S. Department of Defense and allied military customers to control Raven and Wasp systems. Ship-based use of Puma AE requires no modification to naval vessels, enabling easy integration into maritime operations. The AECV program represents the fourth U.S. Department of Defense full and open competition for a small UAS program of record, and the fourth such competition won by AV.
I'm a fan of hand-held UAVs in priniciple but I'm worried that requirements folks can load too much stuff on the things, making them less efficient to operate and thus less attractive to troops who just want something that works and gives them the images they need to get the bad guys (see a video of the Puma in action).
U.S. armed forces including the Army, Marine Corps, Air Force and USSOCOM, as well as international forces such as those of Italy, Denmark, Spain and the Netherlands, use AV's hand-launched UAS for missions that include base security, route reconnaissance, mission planning, battle damage assessment and force protection. The U.S. Army has reported that Army Raven UAS were flown for approximately 150,000 combat hours in 2007. AV has delivered more than 10,000 small unmanned aircraft to date, including Raven, Wasp and Puma.
The contract is worth $6 million with an option for up to $200 million. It's a huge win for one of the pioneers in hand-held UAVs and it'll be interesting to see how well this thing operates in a wartime situation with the special operations forces' unique requirements.
"AV responded to a USSOCOM requirement for a hand-launched UAS. We are pleased to be chosen to deliver these capabilities into the hands of warfighters with a new, more capable third generation version of our Puma," said John Grabowsky, AV executive vice president and general manager of unmanned aircraft systems. "Puma AE joins Raven and Wasp in AV's product portfolio, delivering a powerful new solution for land and ship-based, over-the-horizon intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance," Grabowsky added.