Iraqi troops are being trained in the use of the U.S. RQ-11 Raven UAV. These UAVs are being used by Iraqi border guards, and their use will expand to other areas of the armed forces. But the border guards are in particular need of the mini-UAVs, as it allows rapid examination of a large area where smuggling is suspected.
The Raven is a very popular UAV, with nearly 5,000 produced so far. The U.S. Army has long been the main user. But the U.S. Air Force and Marine Corps have adopted it. SOCOM (Special Operations Command) is also a big user. In Iraq, Ravens have flown over 50,000 sorties so far. Italy, Australia and Denmark, and several other nations, are also using Raven.
The 4.3 pound Raven is inexpensive ($35,000 each) and can stay in the air for 80 minutes at a time. The Raven is also battery powered (and silent), and carries a color day vidcam, or a two color infrared night camera. Both cameras broadcast real time video back to the operator, who controls the Raven via a laptop computer. The Raven can go as fast as 90 kilometers an hour, but usually cruises at between 40 and 50. It can go as far as 15 kilometers from its controller, and usually flies a preprogrammed route, using GPS for navigation. The Raven is made of Kevlar, the same material used in helmets and protective vests. On average, Raven can survive about 200 landings before it breaks something. While some Ravens have been shot down, the most common cause of loss is losing the communications link (as the aircraft flies out of range) or a software/hardware failure on the aircraft. The flight control software has a failsafe mode, so that when the radio link between aircraft and operator is lost, the aircraft will immediately head for home (where it was launched from).
American troops often put a label on each aircraft, saying, in the local language, that if the aircraft is returned to the nearest American military unit, there will be a reward. Several lost Ravens have been recovered this way. The latest model (Raven B) has a rescue beacon in the tail, that puts out a signal. If a helicopter is available, the downed Raven can be quickly retrieved and repaired.
The Raven B (RQ-11A), introduced three years ago, weighs a little more (4.3 pounds), but has much better sensors, and the option of carrying a laser designator. Raven B flight performance is better as well. The marines, who had much success with Dragon Eye UAV, switched to the Raven B because its the same, but better. The air force was using the seven pound Desert Hawk, and switched for the same reason. British troops were also using Desert Hawk, but switched to Raven.
The big advantage with Raven is that its simple, reliable, and it works. A complete system (controller, spare parts and three UAVs) costs $240,000. The UAV can be quickly taken apart and put into a backpack. It takes off by having the operator start the motor, and then throwing it. This can be done from a moving vehicle, and the Raven is a popular recon tool for convoys. It lands by coming in low and then turning the motor off. Special Forces troops like to use it at night, because the enemy cant see it, and often cant hear it as well.
The controller allows the operator to capture video, or still pictures, and transmit them to other units or a headquarters. The operator often does this while the Raven is flying a pre-programmed pattern (using GPS). The operator can have the UAV stop and circle, in effect keeping the camera on the same piece of ground below. The operator can also fly the Raven, which is often used when pursuing hostile gunmen.