October 27, 2007:
huge success of the 4.2 pound U.S. Raven UAV (nearly 4,000 in service), there
is still a demand for even smaller UAVs. After over two years of testing and
further development, the U.S. Marine Corps are sending the one pound Wasp III
Micro Air Vehicle (MAV) to Iraq and Afghanistan. The Wasp III (now also known
as BATMAV) is a flat, rectangular "flying wing" (29 inch wingspan), that can
stay in the air for about 45 minutes (PHOTO). Once the battery powered propeller is
spinning, the operator throws Wasp into the air, and off it goes, usually at a
100 foot altitude. You land it by pressing the autoland button, after you have
entered GPS coordinates of where you want it to return to. The propeller often
breaks off when it lands, but the Wasp was designed for that, and you just snap
on another propeller. The $5-10,000 MAV can survive about twenty such landings.
The MAV is controlled via a hand held ($30,000) device that looks like a
Gameboy, but has a seven inch color screen and controls laid out for easy use.
BATMAV operators do require more training than most other UAVs, because the
Wasp travels closer to the ground, and the system is designed to let one
operator control several Wasps at once. The Wasp III is a larger version of the
original seven ounce Wasp, which proved too lightweight and vulnerable to even
The Wasp carries a GPS, and
microprocessor that keeps it stable in flight. It can also hover like a
helicopter, a very useful capability for urban combat. The operator can also
select a route via GPS coordinates, and order it to circle an area at any time.
Two color video cameras are carried (one looking forward, and one looking to
the rear), and then the Wasp is a hundred feet up, you can make out people
below, and whether they are armed. The Wasp moves at a speed of 35-75
kilometers an hour (or about 9-19 meters a second). The controller can remain
in touch with a Wasp that is up to five kilometers away, after which the
operator losses control, and the video feed.
The controller, which is the
same one used for larger micro-UAVs like the Raven and Pointer, makes training easier. The version going into
action is waterproof and has a night (infrared) camera. The major shortcoming
of the BATMAV is the difficulty of using
it in windy or stormy conditions. This is a problem with all lightweight UAVs,
and is particularly bad with the tiny BATMAV. The troops, however, are happy to
have it. The system is rugged, lightweight and simple to use. When the air is
fairly still, the BATMAV can go up and provide the troops with a major
The army Special Forces and
Air For Special Operations troops are also using BATMAV, mainly because it is
so small and light, which makes carrying it around a lot easier.