About a year after they received 11 American RQ-11B UAV systems Colombia obtained, from a Colombian firm, computer simulator software loaded with Colombian terrain. The Raven controller already has the ability to support different languages. The ability to utilize local terrain makes the simulator much more useful and realistic for the soldiers who will be using it. The computer simulator for the RQ-11B operates using the actual UAV controller. This controller is very similar to game console controllers but contains a color display. This design was deliberate because many young soldiers grew up using game consoles and the military found that this greatly shortened the time required to become expert handling things like UAVs. The simulator runs from a laptop and loads realistic terrain and external events (weather, winds, temporary communications loss, emergency situations) into the controller the trainee is using. The simulator has proved very useful, especially for learning how to deal with rare situations, especially emergency ones that might result in loss of the UAV if practiced with an actual UAV.
Each Raven B (RQ-11B) system consists of three UAVs, controller, spares and some tools. The RQ-11B was introduced in 2007, a year after the original Raven entered service in large numbers. This UAV is inexpensive ($35,000 each). The Raven is battery powered and largely silent unless flown close to the ground. It carries a color day vidcam or a two color infrared night camera. It can also carry a laser designator and a gimbaled camera is being introduced. The cameras broadcast real time video back to the operator, who controls the Raven via a handheld controller, which uses a hood to shield the display from direct sunlight (thus allowing the operator to clearly see what is on the ground). The Raven can go as fast as 95 kilometers an hour but usually cruises at between 40 and 50 kilometers an hour. It can go as far as 15 kilometers from its controller and usually flies a pre-programmed route, using GPS for navigation. Raven is launched by having one soldier throwing it into the air while the operator gets it stabilized via the controller.
While very popular with troops Ravens are actually tiny (two kg/4.4 pounds) aircraft that rapidly wear out in combat. The Raven is made of Kevlar, the same material used in helmets and protective vests, but there are many ways for one to be lost in combat. On paper a Raven can survive about 200 landings (just glide it into the ground) before it can no longer be used. That’s in peacetime operations. In a combat zone few Ravens make it past fifty or so landings. While some Ravens have been shot down, the most common cause of loss is a problem with the communications link (as the aircraft flies out of range or behind something that interrupts the signal) or a software/hardware failure on the aircraft. Combat losses have been high, as nearly 20,000 have been built and most of those have been lost on the battlefield.
From the very beginning the Raven changed the way troops fight. With the bird's eye view of the battlefield, commanders can move their troops more quickly, confident that they won't be ambushed and often with certain knowledge of where the unseen enemy is. The big advantage with Raven is that it’s simple, reliable, and it just works. In Colombia it will mostly be used by special operations troops, who tend to favor UAVs like this. Raven can be quickly taken apart and put into a backpack. Raven can also be launched from a moving vehicle and is thus a popular recon tool for convoys. Special operations forces troops like to use it at night because the enemy can’t see it and often can’t hear it either.