Smaller UAVs Proving Their Worth in Afghanistan and Iraq, Says U.S. Army

 - August 22, 2011, 4:50 AM
The U.S. Army has ordered 180 of the new AeroVironment Puma, a hand-launched, unmanned aircraft system, for Afghanistan operations. (Photo: AeroVironment)

"Surges" of Puma and Raven small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) are boosting U.S. Army operations in Afghanistan. Responding to an urgent operational requirement there, the Army has ordered 180 new Puma systems to protect route clearance patrols from IEDs. This follows earlier urgent requirements for the two aircraft, manufactured by AeroVironment, of Monrovia, Calif.

There are 72 Puma systems in-theater and 14 more destined for Afghanistan, said Army Major Jeff Poquette last week at the Unmanned Systems North America conference in Washington, D.C. Each Puma system consists of three air vehicles and two ground-control systems. Poquette said that the Puma has been so effective in route-clearance operations that the Army decided to equip every maneuver company in Afghanistan with the system.

The latest order was made via the U.S. Special Operations Command and is worth $65.5 million. It is the largest order received by AeroVironment, said Tom Herring, general manager of the company’s UAS business segment. The schedule calls for deliveries to be completed in the next several months.

Last year, the Army tripled the number of Raven systems available from 15 to 45 per brigade, Poquette said. That required “borrowing” Ravens from non-deploying units in the U.S. In Iraq, Ravens are supplementing Army operations even as U.S. forces draw down and withdraw their larger Shadow UASs, he said, adding that one commander used Ravens at the brigade level to cover surveillance gaps, keeping them flying 24 hours a day. “In that time, as the larger UAVs were being pulled back, the mortar fire and indirect fire attacks actually decreased because the enemy knew the Raven was overhead,” Poquette said.

In a separate briefing, Col. Robert J. Sova, Army training and doctrine capability manager for UAS, also attested to the utility of Raven. “We have realized that small UAS and the Raven [with] a gimbaled payload will give us much greater capability than a fixed payload…to provide persistence in a platform that can give you 45 minutes to an hour [endurance],” he said.