Raven UAV Draws Raves From The Field
The Army News Service reports that the tiny Raven drone’s aerial reconnaissance value has quickly earned the respect of battalion commanders in Iraq, filling a niche at the battalion level when larger UAVs are unavailable. Weighing in at 4.5 pounds, with a 3-foot body and a 5-foot wingspan, the Raven UAV is so small that it’s launched by hand.
Maj. Chris Brown told the Army News Service that “We had one commander’s team find an IED [DID: a do-it-yourself land mine] on its first mission, and the commander has been sold ever since.”
As a subsequent StrategyPage article has noted:
“What makes this little (4.2 pounds) bird so popular is its low cost ($25,000 each) and performance (can stay in the air for 80 minutes at a time). The Raven is battery powered, and carries a color day vidcam, or a two color infrared night camera. Both cameras broadcast real time video back to the operator, who controls the Raven via a laptop computer. The Raven can go as fast as 90 kilometers an hour, but usually cruises between 40 and 50. It can go as far as 15 kilometers from its controller on the ground, and usually flies a preprogrammed route, using GPS for navigation. Each Raven unit consists of three UAVs and one ground control station. Ravens are launched by turning on the motor, and throwing it into the air. It lands by coming back to ground at a designated GPS location (and bouncing around a bit.) The Raven is made of Kevlar, the same material used in helmets and protective vests. On average, Raven can survive about 200 landings before it breaks something.”
The Raven was supposed to be a company-level UAV, but a shortage of UAVs in-theater means that battalions frequently have custody of them. These mini-uavs typically fly missions to search for IEDs, provide reconnaissance for patrols, and watch the perimeters of military camps camps.
Maj. Brown also told the Army News Service that today’s youth are well-suited to such tools:
“One of the best pilots in the 1st Cav. is a cook, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have … scouts operating the Raven,” he said. “Some of these kids have been raised with Playstation in their hands and are better able to handle watching a screen and controlling the aircraft.”
When one of the best pilots is a cook, the designers have done something very right.
Army Magazine reports that the Army’s recent fielding of Raven is the result of an advanced concept technology demonstration (ACTD) that was conducted by the U.S. Army, U.S. Special Operations Command and the Natick Lab during 2002. “We accelerated this ACTD by two to three years. We simply accelerated a technology demonstration that was already in the works for about two full years, and then we immediately trained a small cadre of folks in the 10th Mountain Division and put it into Afghanistan. One of the things I point out with great pride as an acquisition officer is that when Gen. Keane said, ‘I don’t want it to take 20 years,’ we delivered the first Raven in-theater 20 weeks after contract award.”
Each of the Raven systems includes three airplanes, a ground control station and a remote video terminal. Delivery of the first five systems was followed by sequential approval for 10 additional systems, followed by 170 more, bringing total Raven procurement to date to 185 systems.
According to sources at Military.com and StrategyPage, a single Raven costs about $25-35,000, and the total system costs about $250,000. The prime contractor is AeroVironment Inc.
UPDATE: (Feb 9/06) – DefenseTech’s “The Amazing, All-Purpose, Styrofoam Drone” describes some of the Raven’s uses around Balad, Iraq. One downside: Raven drones do not like IED jammers. No doubt their upgrades will be more resistant.
Additional Readings & Sources:
- GlobalSecurity.org – RQ-11 Raven
- AeroVironment Small UAVs Site
- DID (Nov 2/05) – Ravens Winning Gold in Afghanistan’s “Commando Olympics”
- StrategyPage (Oct 31/05) – Can’t Get Enough Little Birds
- C4ISR Journal (Oct 17/05) – Ready reconnaissance: U.S. commandos embrace hand-launched drones
- DID (Sept 30/05) – AeroVironment Given SBIR contract for New UAVs: Can They Do It Again?
- Talking Proud – Battle for Fallujah. Includes some pictures of Ravens in use, and descriptions of how UAVs were used before the battle.
- Popular Science (May 2003) – The Revolution Will Not Be Piloted. Good multinational overview of UAV systems at all scales; page 3 of 6 covers “mini-UAVs” like the Pointer. Since the article, more new models have arrived… including the RQ-11 Raven.