The mini-UAV market may lack the high individual price tags of vehicles like the RQ-4 Global Hawk, or the battlefield strike impact of an MQ-9 Reaper, but it does have 2 advantages. One is less concern about “deconfliction” with manned aircraft, as described in “Field Report on Raven, Shadow UAVs From the 101st.” Mini-UAVs usually fly below 1,000 feet, and a styrofoam-like body with a 5 foot wingspan is much less of a collision threat than larger and more solidly-built platforms like the man-sized RQ-7 Shadow, or the Cessna-sized MQ-1 Predator.
The other advantage is mini-UAVs’ suitability for special operations troops, who are being employed in numbers on the front lines around the world. “Raven UAVs Winning Gold in Afghanistan’s ‘Commando Olympics’” details the global scale of this interest – and in July 2008, a $200 million US SOCOM contract for a breakthrough mini-UAV underscored it again. Now AeroVironment’s S2AS/ RQ-20A Puma AE is moving beyond Special Operations, and into the regular force.