Commandos and Special Operations: "Can't Get Enough Little Birds
October 31, 2005: The “commando Olympics” going on in Afghanistan has brought commando units from over a dozen countries together to pursue Islamic terrorists. In addition to all the cooperation, there’s also a lot comparing notes. One thing everyone has noted is the large number of useful gadgets American Special Forces troops have. The most envied item is the American Raven UAV. What makes this little (4.2 pounds) bird so popular is its low cost ($25,000 each) and performance (can stay in the air for 80 minutes at a time). The Raven is battery powered, 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. Each Raven unit consists of three UAVs and one ground control station. Ravens are launched by turning on the motor, and throwing it into the air. It lands by coming back to ground at a designated GPS location (and bouncing around a bit.) 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.
Several foreign special operations organizations have expressed an interest in American UAVs, and the way they are used in the field. The British SAS recently purchased a larger micro UAV, the BUSTER (backpack unmanned surveillance targeting and enhanced reconnaissance). Similar to the Raven, each aircraft weighs ten pounds, is launched via a small catapult, and lands via a built- in parachute. BUSTER’s big advantage is that it can stay in the air for four hours at a time, and fly as high as 10,000 feet. "