Unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) manufacturer AeroVironment is focusing on maritime operations at its Singapore Airshow stand (R77) and has brought four systems to display to visitors. These include the Puma AE, Raven, Wasp AE and Shrike.
A recent example of maritime UAS operations was a National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Center of Excellence for Unmanned Technologies test mission. A team from the California State University Channel Islands was invited to see how the Puma AE works during a test mission on the research vessel R/V Shearwater, sailing from Santa Barbara Harbor in central California to the Santa Barbara Channel.
The NOAA UAS operator flew the Puma AE for more than 10 missions, all hand-launched and followed by recovery after landing on the water. According to the university, UAS such as the Puma AE “can be used to survey and inventory marine mammals, vegetation, survey coastlines, monitor for poachers, document illegal fishing and much more.”
The RQ-20A Puma AE (All Environment) can be flown over land and water and is lightweight (six kg) and man-portable. It also “requires no auxiliary equipment for launch or recovery operations,” according to AeroVironment. Batteries can power the Puma AE for more than 3.5 hours, and it is equipped with a power adapter that allows integration of solar and fuel cell solutions that may be available in the future. Payloads can include a lightweight mechanical gimbaled system carrying an electro-optical and infrared camera and illuminator. Third-party payloads can be mounted under the wing on an optional Transit Bay.
Communications range from AeroVironment’s ground control station is up to 15 km, but the Puma AE can be programmed for autonomous navigation using GPS. The station is also compatible with the Raven, Wasp and Shrike, which reduces operator training time.
According to AeroVironment, the Raven “is the most widely used unmanned aircraft system in the world today. It features a 4.5-foot wingspan and weighs 4.2 pounds. Line-of-sight range is 10 km. The optional stabilized gimbaled payload delivers real-time camera or infrared imagery to the ground station.
The Wasp AE Micro Air Vehicle (MAV) is small enough to be carried by one person, can operate “virtually undetected” and can also be flown manually or autonomously. A deep-stall landing feature enables landings in confined areas on both land and water. Communications range is five km and endurance 50 minutes. It also carries a mechanically stabilized electro-optical and infrared payload.
The Shrike is a vertical takeoff and landing MAV, according to AeroVironment, “designed for front-line day/night intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR).” A single operator can direct the Shrike to operate in hover-and-stare or perch-and-stare modes, “transmitting real-time persistent ISR to small unit commanders” via the ground control system. Shrike features modular payload bays that can carry a variety of payloads, depending on the mission.
Since last August, AeroVironment has announced several UAS contract wins. These include a $13 million order for the Puma AE from the U.S. Marine Corps; $18.5 million for Ravens under a U.S. Army foreign military sales award; 10 orders from the U.S. Army for Raven and Puma AE systems worth $47.1 million; and a $3.4 million contract for Ravens for a U.S. Army foreign military sales contract with the Spanish Ministry of Defense.