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SSC-Natick Press Release

U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center-Natick
Public Affairs Office
Kansas Street
Natick, MA 01760-5012

Contact: Chief, Public Affairs Office
(508) 233-5340

Date: May 28, 2004
No: 04-19

Raven flies into action

NATICK, Mass. -- Ground troops in company-size or smaller units are getting new help from above with an emerging class of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) compact enough to be carried in rucksacks.

The stealthy Raven, developed by the U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center in Natick, Mass., U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) Special Operations Acquisition Logistics-Technology, and AeroVironment, Inc. in Monrovia, Calif., is among the latest in small UAVs that give Soldiers a bird's-eye view of the battlefield for beyond line-of-sight reconnaissance and surveillance.

The Raven resulted from the Military Operations in Urban Terrain Advanced Concept Technology Demonstration (MOUT ACTD) intelligence gathering and dissemination requirement.

The demonstration sought to improve operational effectiveness of Soldiers and Marines operating in urban and built-up areas through integration of advanced technologies and associated tactics, techniques and procedures.

Among the candidates of commercial products, the Pointer UAV from AeroVironment was selected during a 1998 market survey.

With the completion of MOUT ACTD in 2002, the ACTD and Urban Technology office at Natick transitioned to the USSOCOM- sponsored Pathfinder ACTD, an effort to integrate unattended ground vehicles, UAVs and smart sensors into a mobile, self-forming network providing enhanced situational awareness, command, control and communications to commanders and assault forces for urban reconnaissance.

Raven, introduced last year, has its roots from Pointer and was born out of the MOUT and Pathfinder ACTDs.

"Up until (MOUT ACTD), UAVs were used as a strategic asset at higher echelons," said Andy Mawn, ACTD and Urban Technology program manager. "The breakthroughs were that we could make them for light infantrymen, and the technology became viable to operate it in that size."

"We understand Soldiers at the dismounted infantry level," Mawn added, explaining how his office became involved with aircraft. "From MOUT ACTD, we had constant interaction with Soldiers. They're the real designers. We always kept it focused on small and simple."

The Raven adopts the same basic design and function of the Pointer but in a smaller package Soldiers wanted, shrinking the aircraft's wingspan from 9 to 4 1/2 feet and weight from 9 to 4 pounds.

It's designed for two operators, a pilot and mission controller, although one operator is possible, and is deployed with four to six troops who can share the equipment load and secure the perimeter, according to Mawn. Other components in a Raven package are the ground control unit, video display terminal or laptop monitor, and batteries totaling about 30 pounds.

"They're learning it's worth the extra weight. You know they like it when they're willing to carry it without being ordered," said Susan McKinney, deputy program manager.

The aircraft is assembled in less than three minutes using plastic clips to fasten seven gray modular Kevlar composite pieces stored in two cases. Depending on the mission, the aircraft's detachable nose carries a daytime video camera with simultaneous front and side view, an infrared video camera with front view or infrared video camera with side view.

Hand launched from a standing position like passing a football, the aircraft gains altitude quickly and is directed with an operator controller in the full manual mode, steered left or right at a constant altitude in the semi-autonomous mode or completely controlled free of any operator input in the autonomous mode.

Powered by a single propeller connected to a direct-drive electric engine, the aircraft's advanced avionics steady the flight while a Global Positioning System and electronic compass provide redundant navigation systems in case one fails. The ground control unit guides the aircraft, programs mission waypoints and displays what is seen by the aircraft.

From as far as 6 miles away, the system transmits live airborne video images and location information to the ground control unit and remote video terminal, and records the video for later analysis.

Troops can track the enemy, secure convoys, protect base camps, identify targets and assess battle damage.

"A lead vehicle in a convoy can fly the Raven and see what's up ahead. It helps Air Force tactical air controllers describe the target from a pilot's perspective," Mawn said. "They're still figuring out uses for it. Flying is simple, but what to do with the information is the challenge."

In the event of a lost radio signal, the aircraft goes into "fly home" or "rally point" mode so that it can be safely recovered. Flight time is limited to about 90 minutes, and landing is nothing less than an operator- controlled crash, the pieces scattering apart as it is commanded into a "deep stall." Underbelly padding helps dissipate energy, but it's subject to damage if it strikes a pointed surface, such as jagged rock, Mawn said.

More than 100 of the Raven systems are going into production this year and will be deployed to support troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, according to Mawn. Training is ongoing for units planning on flying the Raven.

"Demand has been so high for the system, we would have experimented with them more, but we haven't had the chance to quantify system performance or work with the TTPs (tactics, techniques and procedures)," Mawn said.

Planned upgrades include an even smaller and lighter ground control unit, a higher resolution video screen, enhanced infrared video camera resolution, simultaneous front and side infrared camera capability, and an antenna that reduces potential exposure to the enemy.

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This page last updated on 23 January 2004.