Monday, May 31, 2010

Digital Raven: Hand-Launched UAV Goes Binary

The RQ-11 Raven is a 4.2-pound, backpackable, hand-launched UAV that provides day and night, real-time video imagery for “over the hill” and “around the corner” reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition. 

Each Raven system typically consists of 3 aircraft, 2 ground control stations, system spares, and related services. The digital upgrades are still designated RQ-11Bs, but they enable a given area to include more Ravens, with improved capabilitied. The secret? Using L-band spectrum more efficiently…

Ravin’ bout Ravens

Raven UAV
Raven in the field
The Raven has received positive reviews from Army units in the field. The basic RQ-11 “Raven B” has a wingspan of 4.5 feet, weighs 4.2 pounds when taken out of its backpack and assembled. The hand-launched UAV includes a color electro-optical camera, or an infrared camera for night operations. The UAV operates just 100-500 feet off the ground, which removes many airspace “deconfliction” and clearance issues. Traveling at 30-60 mph on its quiet electric motor and lithium-ion batteries, it can fly for about 60-90 minutes. Line-of-sight control range is about 6.2 miles.

With respect to the digital upgrade, Commenting about the digital upgrades in National Defense magazine, Col. Gregory Gonzalez, project manager of the the Army’s unmanned aerial system (UAS) program, said: 

“This allows us to have more capable and faster processing for better payloads. By using the frequency spectrum in [the L-band] more efficiently, we will be able to [fly] up to 16 Ravens in a specific geographical area, as opposed to just four.”

The digital upgrade also includes greater communication security through signal encryption. The analog Ravens have come under scrutiny because they send unencrypted video signals that could be intercepted by insurgents equipped with a laptop computer, reports the Associated Press.

The Raven system can be flown manually or autonomously through set way-points with options of either a daylight or infrared camera. Over 3,000 Ravens have already been deployed to US forces for use in light infantry Military Operations in Urban Terrain (MOUT) and dismounted warfare. 

Full funding for the digital upgrade order was provided by a US Department of Defense supplemental funding bill. Deliveries of the Raven digital systems and kits began in October 2009.

Beyond the “digital Raven” project, Col. Gonzalez’s office is proposing adding 2 new sizes of Ravens: 1 that would be smaller than the current 4.5 feet long, 4.2 pound RQ-11B, and 1 that would be larger. All 3 sizes would use the same controller and frequency, and would link into the Army’s “One System” remote video terminal. The proposal still needs to be approved by the Army leadership.

Contracts and Key Events

RQ-11 Raven Launch
RQ-11: higher, faster…

Unless otherwise indicated, AeroVironment in Simi Valley, CA is the contractor.

May 10/10: An $11.2 million firm-fixed-price contract, exercising and finalizing a not-to-exceed FY 2010 option for up to 113 full rate production Raven systems, 113 Raven initial spare packages, and Raven engineering services. This effort procures 63 Raven systems; 63 Raven initial spare packages plus Raven engineering services, and logistics support for the family of systems proof of principle effort. The latter appears to be Col. Gonzalez’ “3 sizes” approach.

Work will be performed in Simi Valley, CA, with an estimated completion date of Jan 30/11. U.S. Army Contracting Command, CCAM-AR-A at Redstone Arsenal, AL is the contractor (W58RGZ-05-C-0338). 

April 12/10: A $12.3 million order for 216 retrofit kits to upgrade existing analog Ravens to digital data link capabilities. 

April 6/10: A $6.8 million firm-fixed-price contract exercises a priced option for 51 US Marine Corps RQ-11B systems with digital data links plus 51 initial spares packages and contractor logistics support.
Work is to be performed in Simi Valley, CA, with an estimated completion date of March 29/11. One bid was solicited with one bid received by U.S. Army Contracting Command/CCAM-AR-A at Redstone Arsenal, AlL (W58RGZ-05-C-0338).

Feb 23/10: AeroVironment in Monrovia, CA announces that it received firm fixed-price orders valued at $20.7 million for digital Raven UAVs and digital retrofit kits, and $17.1 million for Raven system spare parts, repairs and training services for the US Army and US Marine Corps. The Raven system and retrofit order represents a portion of the $121 million appropriated for RQ-11 Raven system procurement in the FY 2010 Department of Defense Appropriations Act. The items and services provided under these awards are scheduled to be delivered over the next 12 months.

Dec 21/09: AeroVironment in Monrovia, CA announces that it recieved a $23.9 million firm-fixed-price contract modification to supply digital RQ-11 Raven hand-held unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) and digital kits to upgrade existing analog RQ-11s being used by the US Army and US Marine Corps. If all options are exercised, the potential value of the contract modification is $66.6 million.

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