The U.S. Department of Defense is buying another $53 million
worth of RQ-11 Raven UAVs ( unmanned aerial vehicles). The Raven is not
as well-known as other UAVs in service, like the Predator, but it is arguably
one of the most important in service. The Raven weighs less than five pounds,
and costs $25,000 each. Developed by the Army, it recently was adopted by the
Marine Corps as well, which discarded a similar UAV known as Dragon Eye, made
by the same company as the Raven.
Army currently has some 1,300 RQ-11A Ravens, with another 2000 on order. Each
system consists of three UAVs and ground-control equipment, usually used by an
infantry company commander. This means that each infantry battalion will have
at least nine such UAVs available. This is a significant reconnaissance force
for infantry units that, a decade ago, were dependent on separate army aviation
battalions, or the air force, for air reconnaissance. Now front line infantry
commanders have their own air force, and this is revolutionary.
Raven is very easy to launch. One can simply throw them or one can use a
hand-held bungee cord. The battery-powered UAVs are also very quiet. This makes
them practically invulnerable at night. They can fly as high as 1,000 feet.
Their small size (about 3.5 feet by 4.25 feet) makes them a very difficult
target to hit with small arms fire, at any range.
do these small UAVs, as well as micro-UAVs like the Wasp, mean in terms of
tactics? In one sense, they give American troops in front-line units their own
intelligence-gathering assets. A Raven or Wasp flying at 1,000 feet above the
ground is like a nearly-invulnerable point man with the ability to see in the
dark. This means fewer casualties, not only among the main force, but also
because there is no need to send a soldier or Marine to walk point when you can
send a UAV a couple of kilometers ahead. Raven UAVs are also used to keep an
eye on suspicious buildings, to help units on patrol avoid roadside IEDs by
scouting ahead, or to catch insurgents in the open as they try to set up an
to take a Raven out is like trying to shoot a pigeon, only this is a pigeon
that can dodge fire. Often the attempts to shoot it down will not only betray
the position of the people doing the shooting, as well as providing proof
of hostile intent. The result is that a bunch of insurgents can be taken out,
and that is accomplished without any friendly casualties.
Army is also planning to acquire the upgraded Raven B, a heavier version that
can carry a laser designator. This makes the Raven a much more dangerous
weapon. The addition of a laser designators means that troops on patrol in Iraq
of Afghanistan now can just help target supporting fire from a helicopter or
fighter overhead. With the Army buying at least 1000 systems of the new Raven B
alone, and the Marines also looking into it as well. Small UAVs will be part of
the American arsenal for a long time- Harold C. Hutchison