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MILITARY TECHNOLOGY (MILTECH) is the world's leading international tri-service defence monthly magazine in the English language. MILITARY TECHNOLOGY is "Required Reading for Defence Professionals". Follow us on Twitter: MILTECH1

16 August 2016

US Navy Deploys Newly Designated RQ-20B AeroVironment PUMA AE with Precision Recovery System

The US Navy (USN) has tested and deployed AeroVironment's RQ-20B PUMA small unmanned aircraft system (UAS) aboard a Flight I Guided Missile Destroyer (DDG-class), which included exercises that used AeroVironment’s fully autonomous system to recover the aircraft aboard a ship. The USN issued a report on 3 August from the Arabian Gulf describing how PUMA AE is also being utilised (here) on USNPatrol Craft.

Electronics Technician 2nd Class Darius Jackman launches a PUMA unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) from the patrol coastal ship USS MONSOON (PC 4). MONSOON is one of ten patrol coastal ships assigned to Patrol Coastal Squadron (PCRON) 1 home-ported in Manama, Bahrain in support of maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in the US 5th Fleet area of operation. (Photo: US Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Ryan D. McLearnon)

Following completion of a PUMA AE intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) mission, the AeroVironment Precision Recovery System (PRS) provides for the autonomous on-board recovery of the aircraft, without interrupting the ship’s operations.  Because the PUMA AE is also designed to land and float in water, operators can choose to recover it from the ocean, should mission requirements dictate. The AeroVironment PRS occupies a small footprint and can be managed and operated by members of a ship’s crew, as opposed to requiring external contractors. It is transported in tactical packaging that can be hand-carried aboard and readily transferred from one ship to another.

"Our PRS expands the capability of PUMA AE to support maritime operations," Kirk Flittie, vice president and general manager of AeroVironment’s UAS business segment, explained. "This solution also builds on AeroVironment’s extensive operational experience with small UAS to provide the Navy with a low-cost, hand-launched capability optimized for contested environments. PUMA AE’s ability to operate from a wide variety of surface vessels ensures rapid response reconnaissance capabilities that help our customers operate more safely and effectively and proceed with certainty.”

PUMA AE can be launched and recovered very quickly.  The UAS features a gimbaled payload that delivers high quality electro-optical (EO) and infrared (IR) imagery and AeroVironment’s secure Digital Data Link (DDL).  These features improve situational awareness for the ship and also for boat crews who carry their own remote video terminal (Pocket DDL) during approach and assist or other missions.

AeroVironment developed the PUMA AE system to compete for, and win, a 2008 United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) competitive Program of Record and subsequently supplied the system to the USN Expeditionary Combat Command Coastal Riverine Forces, the US Army for convoy and ground troop support, and the USMC. Most recently, the USN procured PUMA AE systems for use aboard Patrol Craft and also deployed them aboard a USN Expeditionary Fast Transport (T-EPF) ship in support of counter illicit trafficking operations in the Caribbean. The PUMA AE is also employed by several international partners. The US Department of Defense recently established the designation RQ-20B for the block 2 PUMA AE small UAS. The block 2 PUMA AE system includes a more powerful and lighter propulsion system, lighter and stronger airframe, long endurance battery, precision inertial navigation system and an improved user interface. The new, all environment MANTIS i45 gimbal sensor suite for PUMA AE delivers a dramatic leap in small UAS image resolution and ISR capability and will be available for ordering in September.