Warplanes: Digital Video Revives Raven


December 17, 2008: The RQ-11 Raven UAV (unmanned aerial vehicles) is getting a new communications system that will transmit video using a digital, rather than an analog, signal. This will enable higher resolution pictures to be transmitted, as well as allowing more Ravens to operate in the same area (there are a limited number of frequencies for Raven data to use).

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 $30,000 each. Developed by the Army, it has since been adopted by the Marine Corps, and several foreign countries as well.

The U.S. Army has bought over 2,000 RQ-11 Ravens so far, and it is very popular with its users. The Raven is usually used by an infantry company commander. This means that each infantry battalion could have as many as 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.

 The 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, and stay in the air for up to an hour per flight. The operator uses a controller very similar to those used with video games, making it easy to train new operators. The small size (about 3.5 feet by 4.25 feet) of the Raven makes them a very difficult target to hit with small arms fire, at any range.


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