Intelligence: The Bird Was Lost Then Found

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April 9, 2011: A Philippines citizen was arrested in the U.S. last February, as he sought to complete the sale of a U.S. Army RQ-11 Raven UAV. The seller, Henson Chua, had offered the Raven on eBay nearly a year ago, and U.S. officials noted it. Chua was seeking $13,000 for the Raven. It was not revealed where Chua got the Raven, or if it included the controller. The Raven is low-tech, but having one, and being able to examine the way it is put together, could be useful in designing a similar aircraft. Chua violated the Arms Export Control Act, and faces up to 20 years in jail if convicted.

The Raven has been one of the most useful UAVs ever sent into combat. The current model, the Raven B (RQ-11A), was introduced four years ago, a year after the original Raven entered service in large numbers. This UAV is inexpensive ($35,000 each) and can stay in the air for 80 minutes at a time. 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. Both 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 down there). 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 Raven on eBay was probably one of the lost birds, that was found by someone who knew what an auction was, but was unfamiliar with the concept of a sting.

 


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