Digital Raven: Hand-Launched UAV Goes Binary
The RQ-11 Raven is a 4.2-pound, backpackable, hand-launched UAV that provides day and night, real-time video imagery for “over the hill” and “around the corner” reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition.
Each Raven system typically consists of 3 aircraft, 2 ground control stations, system spares, and related services. The digital upgrades are still designated RQ-11Bs, but they enable a given area to include more Ravens, with improved capabilities. The secret? Using L-band spectrum more efficiently.
Ravin’ bout Ravens
The Raven has received positive reviews from Army units in the field. The basic RQ-11 “Raven B” has a wingspan of 4.5 feet, weighs 4.2 pounds when taken out of its backpack and assembled. The hand-launched UAV includes a color electro-optical camera, or an infrared camera for night operations. The UAV operates just 100-500 feet off the ground, which removes many airspace “deconfliction” and clearance issues. Traveling at 30-60 mph on its quiet electric motor and lithium-ion batteries, it can fly for about 60-90 minutes. Line-of-sight control range is about 6.2 miles.
The man-portable Raven system features 3 UAVs, a ground control unit, a remote video terminal, transit cases and support equipment.
With respect to the digital upgrade, Commenting about the digital upgrades in National Defense magazine, Col. Gregory Gonzalez, project manager of the Army’s unmanned aerial system (UAS) program, said:
“This allows us to have more capable and faster processing for better payloads. By using the frequency spectrum in [the L-band] more efficiently, we will be able to [fly] up to 16 Ravens in a specific geographical area, as opposed to just four.”
The digital upgrade also includes greater communication security through signal encryption. The analog Ravens have come under scrutiny because they send unencrypted video signals that could be intercepted by insurgents equipped with a laptop computer, reports the Associated Press.
The Raven system can be flown manually or autonomously through set way-points with options of either a daylight or infrared camera. Over 3,000 Ravens have already been deployed to US forces for use in light infantry Military Operations in Urban Terrain (MOUT) and dismounted warfare.
Full funding for the digital upgrade order was provided by a US Department of Defense supplemental funding bill. Deliveries of the Raven digital systems and kits began in October 2009.
Beyond the “digital Raven” project, Col. Gonzalez’s office is proposing adding 2 new sizes of UAV: 1 that would be smaller than the current 4.5 feet long, 4.2 pound RQ-11B, and 1 that would be larger. All 3 sizes would use the same controller and frequency, and would link into the Army’s “One System” remote video terminal. The proposal still needs to be approved by the Army leadership.
Contracts and Key Events
Unless otherwise indicated, AeroVironment in Simi Valley, CA is the contractor.
Oct 5/11: A $6.9 million firm-fixed-price contract modification for new USAF Raven systems, and Initial Spares Packages. USAF Security Forces plan to employ Raven systems to enhance situational awareness and security at bases worldwide. This initial order will provide training systems for USAF personnel, as a precursor to broader deployment.
Work will be performed in Simi Valley, CA, with an estimated completion date of Feb 29/12. One bid was solicited, with one bid received by U.S. Army Contracting Command in Redstone Arsenal, AL (W58RGZ-11-C-0055). See also Aerovironment.
Sept 8/11: Aerovironment announces a $15.9 million cost-plus-fixed-fee contract order to support US Army Raven systems over “the next several months.”
May 25/11: AeroVironment, Inc. in Monrovia, CA receives an $8.4 million firm-fixed-price contract for 67 Army Digital Data Link Raven Systems and 67 Army Raven Digital Data Link spares packages.
Work will be performed in Simi Valley, CA, with an estimated completion date of May 14/12. One bid was solicited, with one bid received, by the U.S. Army Contracting Command at Redstone Arsenal, AL (W58RGZ-11-C-0055). The U.S. Army continues toward its total acquisition objective of 2,358 systems (7,074 UAVs), though that may rise. See also Aerovironment release.
April 20/11: The US Army currently equips each brigade with 15 RQ-11B Raven systems, but the 9 Afghan BCTs want to raise that to 35 each (105 UAVs). They’re also shipping larger Puma-AE UAV systems into theater, with 64 in and another 20 requested. So what’s the problem? Training.
Right now, the US FAA requires Federal Aviation Administration must issue a certificate of authorization, in order to fly UAVs in US air space. There are limits to that requirement, but it takes months to get that certification, and it’s hurting operator training. Commanders are complaining that some operators lack adequate pre-combat preparation, and must learn on the job.
In response, the US Army has instituted a buddy program, a tracking program for operators, and a ground-based technical solution. Under the buddy program, skilled mini-UAV operators will teach other soldiers. The web tracker will make sure that qualified operators don’t get lost in the shuffle when they move from one brigade to another. The technical solution involves a ground-based sense-and-avoid system that may help expedite FAA certification. NDIA’s National Defense Magazine.
April 12/11: A $14.8 million order for 248 US Army digital Raven UAV retrofit kits. Work is scheduled to be completed by December 2011, and will be performed at Simi Valley, CA, with an estimated completion date of Oct 9/12. One bid was solicited with one received. by the US Army Contracting Command at Redstone Arsenal, AL (W58RGZ-05-0338). See also Aervironment release.
Feb 4/11: Aviation Week reports that the US Army wants to beef up UAV availability down to the platoon level, in an environment where, as Army Operations Office aviation UAS director Lt. Col. James Cutting puts it, “there will never be enough multi-million-dollar systems to cover them.” Where now there are 17 RQ-11 Ravens in a brigade combat team (BCT), the Army plans to increase this to 49 “Small UAS family of systems”, initially made up of AeroVironment’s Puma AE at the high end, RQ-11B Raven as the core, and smaller Wasp III as the true “flying binoculars” micro UAV.
Down the road, this set is expected to be a competition, and the numbers involved make it an attractive target. According to Cutting, the Army will push the new UAVs directly down to engineer, armor and infantry units , rather than forming more aviation units and adding their overhead. Since the UAVs in question are so small, and fly at under 1,000 feet, they can be used without worrying about “deconfliction,” and don’t really require the same planning & support overhead as, for instance, a unit of RQ-7B Shadows, or MQ-1C Gray Eagles. Aviation Week | Aviation Week Ares.
Jan 27/11: A $7.8 million firm-fixed-price contract for 919 U.S. Marine Corps Raven Module 2 upgrade sets. The upgrade kits allow digital RQ-11B Ravens to operate using a different frequency band than the stock configuration. Funding was appropriated in the 2010 Department of Defense Appropriations Act.
Work will be performed in Simi Valley, CA, with an estimated completion date of April 30/11. Even though they’re for the Marines, 1 bid was solicited with 1 bid received by the U.S. Army AMCOM Contracting Center at Redstone Arsenal, AL (W58RGZ-05-C-0338). See also Aerovironment.
Dec 28/10: A $46.2 million order for 123 new digital Raven UAV systems and spares, as well as 186 digital retrofit kits for the USMC and 339 digital retrofit kits for the US Army. The order represents the remainder of funds appropriated for the Raven systems procured in the FY 2010 DoD appropriations. Work is expected to be completed within a year. AeroVironment release
May 10/10: An $11.2 million firm-fixed-price contract, exercising and finalizing a not-to-exceed FY 2010 option for up to 113 full rate production Raven systems, 113 Raven initial spare packages, and Raven engineering services. This effort procures 63 Raven systems; 63 Raven initial spare packages plus Raven engineering services, and logistics support for the family of systems proof of principle effort. The latter appears to be Col. Gonzalez’ “3 sizes” approach.
Work will be performed in Simi Valley, CA, with an estimated completion date of Jan 30/11. U.S. Army Contracting Command, CCAM-AR-A at Redstone Arsenal, AL is the contractor (W58RGZ-05-C-0338). See also Aerovironment release.
April 12/10: A $12.3 million order for 216 retrofit kits to upgrade existing analog Ravens to digital data link capabilities. Aerovironment release.
April 6/10: A $6.8 million firm-fixed-price contract exercises a priced option for 51 US Marine Corps RQ-11B systems with digital data links plus 51 initial spares packages and contractor logistics support.
Work is to be performed in Simi Valley, CA, with an estimated completion date of March 29/11. One bid was solicited with one bid received by U.S. Army Contracting Command/CCAM-AR-A at Redstone Arsenal, AlL (W58RGZ-05-C-0338).
Feb 23/10: AeroVironment in Monrovia, CA announces that it received firm fixed-price orders valued at $20.7 million for digital Raven UAVs and digital retrofit kits, and $17.1 million for Raven system spare parts, repairs and training services for the US Army and US Marine Corps. The Raven system and retrofit order represents a portion of the $121 million appropriated for RQ-11 Raven system procurement in the FY 2010 Department of Defense Appropriations Act. The items and services provided under these awards are scheduled to be delivered over the next 12 months.
Dec 21/09: AeroVironment in Monrovia, CA announces that it recieved a $23.9 million firm-fixed-price contract modification to supply digital RQ-11 Raven hand-held UAVs and digital kits to upgrade existing analog RQ-11s being used by the US Army and US Marine Corps. If all options are exercised, the potential value of the contract modification is $66.6 million.
- Aerovironment – UAS: Raven
- USAF Fact Sheet – RQ-11B Raven
- Army Technology – RQ-11 Raven Unmanned Aircraft System, USA
- Designation Systems – AeroVironment RQ-11 Raven
- DID – Handling UAV-Generated Huge Data Volumes
- U.S. Department of Defense (Nov 9/10) – Armed with Science. Describes how Spartans (U.S Army 2nd Heavy Brigade Combat Team) employed the Raven system to reduce enemy attacks on U.S. forces.
- National Defense Magazine (November 2009) – Army to Expand Raven Family of Unmanned Aircraft
- DID (Feb 24/05) – Raven UAV Draws Raves from the Field