Warplanes: Tiny Isn't Good Enough


August 25, 2011: The U.S. Army has ordered another 180 Puma UAVs. This is part of an army effort to find micro-UAVs that are more effective than current models, and just as easy to use. The Puma, a 5.9 kg (13 pound) UAV with a 2.6 meter (8.5 feet) wingspan and a range of 15 kilometers from the operator, has passed the test. The new order was largely in response to combat commanders using the Puma in a test and now wanting more. This is not surprising as SOCOM (Special Operations Command) has already ordered over a hundred systems (each with three UAVs and two controllers). All of these will be delivered this year. Larger orders from the army were expected because of this, along with more from SOCOM. 

There are already 72 Puma systems in Afghanistan with 14 more on the way. The army wants to equip each infantry company with a Puma system. These larger UAVs have been most useful in route clearance (scouting ahead to spot ambushes, roadside bombs, landslides, washouts or whatever.) The larger Puma is particularly useful in Afghanistan, which is windier than Iraq, and thus more difficult for the tiny Raven to operate.

Top speed for Puma is 87 kilometers an hour, and cruising speed is 37-50 kilometers an hour. Max altitude is 3,800 meters (12,500 feet), and the UAV can stay in the air for 120 minutes at a time. Puma has a better vidcam (providing tilt, pan and zoom) than the smaller Raven, and that provides steadier and more detailed pictures. Because it is larger than Raven, and three times as heavy, Puma is much steadier in bad weather. The Raven only stays in the air for 80 minutes. Both Puma and Raven are battery powered.

Puma has been around for a decade, but never got purchased in large quantities by anyone. The latest model uses much proven tech from the Raven (both UAVs are made by the same company). Like the Raven, Puma is hand launched, and can be quickly snapped together, or apart. Another version, using a fuel cell has been tested, and was able to stay in the air for nine hours at a time. There is also a naval version, built to withstand all that exposure to salt water.

The army has bought thousands of the 2 kg (4.4 pounds) Raven, but it is mostly used for convoy and base security, and less so by troops in the field. Each combat brigade currently has at least 17 Ravens, but the army wants to increase this to 49 small UAVs, including Puma, and perhaps another model as well.




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