SSC-Natick Press ReleaseU.S. Army Soldier Systems
Public Affairs Office
Contact: Public Affairs Office
Date: October 30, 2008
Flying under the radar: Raven migrating to a new digital data link
By A. Rocco Olean, Technology Systems & Program Integration
Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center
Advanced Concept Technology Demonstration and Urban
Technology Office personnel conduct flight testing of a
prototype Raven Digital Data Link system at Devens Reserve
Forces Training Area, Devens, Mass. (Courtesy photos.)
Click for Larger Photo
Click for Larger Photo
NATICK, Mass. -- On Sept. 19, members of the Natick Soldier
Research, Development and Engineering Center's (NSRDEC) Advanced
Concept Technology Demonstration (ACTD) and Urban Technology Office
(UTO) completed a briefing requirement for the Office of the
Assistant Secretary of Defense (OASD) Networks and Information
This milestone cleared the way for the NSRDEC- developed Small
Unmanned Aerial Systems (SUAS) digital data link (DDL) to transition
to the production line.
What this means is that a familiar item to the military, the Raven
UAS, will be receiving a much needed upgrade.
The Raven is a rucksack-portable UAS used for reconnaissance,
surveillance, target acquisition, force protection and battle damage
assessment. Manufactured by AeroVironment (Simi Valley, Calif.), the
system has a 10 kilometer range and 90 minute endurance.
Originally developed by NSRDEC under the Pathfinder ACTD, Raven has
evolved from a Combat Mission Needs Statement (CMNS) rapid fielding
initiative to an Acquisition Category III Program of Record managed
by Program Manager (PM) UAS, Redstone Arsenal, Huntsville, Ala.
As small UAS, such as Raven, have proliferated in the battlefield,
demand for the systems has increased. This is due to Soldiers and
Marines realizing the benefits of having an organic intelligence,
surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capability. Traditionally,
ISR assets belonged to the higher echelons of the command structure;
SUAS have pushed this capability down to the squad and team level,
and in the view of some, have fundamentally changed the way the U.S.
The Raven relies on an analog downlink to provide the video and
telemetry generated by the platform's Electro-Optical (EO) or
Thermal Infrared (IR) sensors. EO sensors are used for daylight
operations, while IR allows the system to operate at night. The
analog downlink technology has been used for many years and is
reliable and proven. When the Raven's analog link has a weak signal,
the full motion video feed will gradually degrade until the system
enters a loss of link state. This graceful degradation, along with
the architecture's robustness and low transmission delay times, are
analog's primary benefits. The drawback to analog is the video data
is not compressed prior to transmission, so an analog video feed
will consume far more bandwidth than its digital counterpart.
Over the past two years, members of NSRDEC's Small Unmanned Aerial
Systems (SUAS) Advanced Concept Technology Demonstration Team have
worked diligently to overcome the shortcomings of the analog
With the support of AeroVironment as an industry partner and prime
contractor, a new digital data link was developed that provides for
a four-times improvement in available channels, increased range,
improved video quality, relay capability and encryption. The
production of the prototype digital data links had to overcome
numerous technical and regulatory hurdles.
Experimentation this fall at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., will
put the DDL as a solid Technology Readiness Level 7 (system
prototype demonstration in an operational environment). These
planned tests will use the frequency range the Raven will be
allocated in Iraq and provide an opportunity to perform extended
range tests to determine DDL's performance envelope beyond the
standard 10 kilometers.
Raven isn't the only system that is ditching analog data links. In
February 2009, the Federal Communications Commission is mandating
all commercial broadcast television switch from an analog to a
digital broadcast format due to the advantages provided by a digital
As research and development for the SUAS ACTD at NSRDEC winds down,
production planning activities at PM UAS are picking up.
The PM plans to build 25 systems based on the ACTD's design. Fifteen
of the systems will be fielded to a Brigade Combat Team (BCT) in
Iraq for a Military Utility Assessment. The remaining ten will be
used for developmental testing.
Funding from the Office of the Secretary of Defense ISR Task Force
was instrumental in achieving the PM's rapid fielding objectives
along with the initial buy of DDL-capable Ravens.
The Army's Operations Group (G-3) is searching for a BCT willing to
take on the task of testing out the newest Raven variant in Iraq.
The PM is already planning for a successful outcome. With an Army
Acquisition Objective of 2,182 Raven systems, a strategy is in the
works for a complete retrofit of the Raven fleet to digital data