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Beyond MUSIC: AV Presses the Envelope in small UAS development

mugcs.jpg
AV's new integrated mini-Universal Ground Control Station (mUGCS) at the MUSIC Demo

It won’t surprise UAS industry observers that no company was more prominently represented at the U.S. Army’s recent Manned-Unmanned Systems Integration Capability (MUSIC) Demonstration than was AV (Aerovironment). 

AV, which continues to dominate the small UAS segment for the Army and, indeed, the entire DoD, saw the MUSIC demo prominently and successfully demonstrate its venerable RQ-11B RAVEN (the most widely adopted UAV system in the world today), its larger PUMA All Environment Capable Variant UAS as well as its ubiquitous common Ground Control Station (GCS). 

David Hendrickson, AV’s Director of Business Development, explained to DSJ in the aftermath of the MUSIC demo that the company continues to improve the capability of its air vehicles and its GCS through incremental, spiral developments both under contract and via internal investment.

RQ-11B Raven

Mr. Hendrickson notes that the U.S. Army is currently surging to provide RAVEN UAS from CONUS to Afghanistan and is “cutting in” Digital Data Links (DDLs) to all existing analog Army Raven systems.  The incorporation of the DDL, AV notes, dramatically increases the capability of the system by quadrupling the number of communication channels.  AV notes that the DDL also provides enhanced communications security, and establishes the foundation for a new, highly capable and portable communications network over the battlefield.

With respect to the system’s payload, AV has been working to bridge the gap between the imagery provided by the RAVEN and the larger PUMA system.  Under contract to PM UAS, AV is completing work on an enhanced payload for the RAVEN that would provide imaging capabilities similar to those provided by the PUMA.  First deliveries of RAVEN gimbal test articles to Army PM UAS, Mr. Hendrickson notes, are planned this quarter.

PUMA AE UAS

Mr. Hendrickson confirms that AV continues to invest in PUMA AE improvements or spirals based on warfighter inputs.  Foremost among these efforts is extending the endurance of the platform. 

Mr. Hendrickson notes that AV is exploring new battery and energy storage capabilities to extend system endurance beyond the current 2-hour limit. Mr. Hendrickson was less-than-sanguine about the efficacy of current fuel cell developments to extend UAS range in the near-term.

Mini-Universal GCS

As part of the MUSIC demonstration technicians integrated AeroVironment’s mini DDL into the Army’s Grey Eagle to permit operation of one of its three Triclops sensors via AV’s existing Mini-Universal GCS (mUGCS). 

This new capability will provide additional benefit to warfighters and others already equipped with AV’s SUAS by providing access to additional sensors when available and needed. 

Additionally, by maximizing the utility of the thousands of AV GCS already deployed, the Army can achieve greater efficiency with existing assets, logistics and training.

AV continues work under a PM UAS contract on a system that combines the current GCS and the accompanying Toughbook laptop. 

The prototype system displayed at the MUSIC demo weighs six pounds, half the current 12-pound weight, but AV efforts continue in an attempt to reduce the GCS weight to 4.5 pounds while simultaneously increasing its ruggedness.  

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