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The Army’s Program Manager Unmanned Aircraft System (PM UAS) Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (SUAS) Product Office (PdO) has a formal Program of Record in the RQ-11B RAVEN system (focused on company-level operations) and is experimenting with two other small UAS systems – the PUMA-All Environment (AE) air vehicle (supporting battalion-level operations) and the WASP (supporting platoon reconnaissance) – that are not formal Programs of Record. 

PM UAS and the SUAS PdO seek to establish a Program of Record for Family of Small Air Vehicles or “Rucksack Portable” systems – perhaps including the RAVEN, PUMA AE, and WASP, but perhaps not -- and the path to a program is taking two parallel tracks: an ongoing Demonstration and Evaluation in Afghanistan; and the staffing of requisite requirements documents.

The Family of Systems demonstration is the first excursion for the SUAS PdO into an expanded inventory of small UAS.  The Army’s 1/101 Brigade Combat Team (BCT) – currently deployed to Afghanistan -- is the first to receive the FoS equipment and is now operating and evaluating more than dozen 15 WASP, RAVEN, and PUMA AE systems. 

As of January 2011, the 1/101 BCT is now roughly half way through a one-year demonstration and evaluation period of the systems, all supported by a common ground station.  The objective of the trial is to get unambiguous operator feedback on what the warfighter needs in these systems prior to firming the program.

While the evaluation is far from complete, U.S. Army Colonel Robert Sova, the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) Capability Manager for UAS, and Tim Owings, the Army’s Deputy Program Manager for UAS suggests that the following conclusions appear to have emerged:

  1. The RAVEN is suitable for use in and around Forward Operating Bases (FOBs).  The RAVEN Program of Record (1500 fielded) will remain at the center of the Family of Small UAS concept.  That said, the RAVEN will need continuous product improvement, including the incorporation of a gimbaled sensor. 
  2. The PUMA-AE UAS, based on its range, is more suitable than the RAVEN for beyond-the-FOB route clearance missions, but also needs a gimbaled sensor.  The PUMA UAS is not a “shoo-in” incumbent system moving forward, but fielding a battalion-level UAS asset of some sort will be validated.
  3. The WASP UAS is being effectively exploited by small (Platoon) teams that want to know what’s around a corner.  Here again, the WASP may not be the solution, but a Platoon-level asset is needed.
  4. Continued use of a common ground control station (GCS) will be central to the Family of Small UAVs.

With respect to the requirement piece, Colonel Sova told reporters at the AUSA Aviation Symposium that requirements documentation is well along in its staffing within the Pentagon.  Whether an industry solicitation is released by year’s end will depend on how quickly the results of the field evaluations can be incorporated into requirements documentation and how quickly this documentation can move through the requisite Army and DoD staffing processes.

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