Warplanes: Marines Drop Dragon Eye for Raven B


December20, 2006: The U.S. Marine Corps is replacing its Dragon Eye UAV with the Raven B. Over 3,000 Raven's have been produced so far, and the U.S. Army is the biggest user, followed by SOCOM (Special Operations Command). In Iraq, Raven's have flown nearly 20,000 sorties so far.

The Dragon Eye and Raven are very similar. The battery powered, 4.3 pound, Dragon Eye can stay in the air for 50-60 minutes at a time, and moves around at up to 55 kilometers an hour. The UAV can operate up to five kilometers from the operator. The marines have found Dragon Eye particularly good for patrols and scouting. The marines bought over hundred systems (each with three UAVs and one ground controller computer, plus spare parts). Each system costs about $120,000. The marines have used Dragon Eye heavily, but quickly bumped into the systems limits (45-60 minutes in the air per sortie, max range from ground controller of 10 kilometers, lightweight makes UAV unstable in high winds).

The 4.2 pound Raven is inexpensive ($25,000 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 between 40 and 50. It can go as far as 15 kilometers from its controller on the ground, 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. Troops have taken to putting 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 Raven B, introduced this year. weighs a little more, 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, are buying the Raven B because it's the same, but better.


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