Raven UAVs Winning Gold in Afghanistan’s “Commando Olympics”

[defenseindustrydaily.com] Back on Feb 24, 2005, DID covered the success the RQ-11 Raven mini-UAV was enjoying
in Iraq. In November 2005, StrategyPage reported that the RQ-11 Raven
was also turning heads in what it calls “the commando Olympics” of

“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.”

Or at least,
mini-UAVS like the Raven. This Spotlight article looks at Special
Forces related mini-UAV buys from a number of countries, spurred by
requests from troops in theater. Now the Netherlands has added itself
to the list of Raven customers…

  • RQ-11: Drawing Raves
  • The Commando Olympics: Other Teams are Competing
  • Additional Readings & Sources

RQ-11: Drawing Raves


Raven is a 4.2-pound, backpackable, hand-launched sensor platform that
provides day and night, real-time video imagery for “over the hill” and
“around the corner” reconnaissance, surveillance and target
acquisition. Each Raven system typically consists of 3 aircraft, a
ground control station, system spares, and related services.

As a measure of its success, The 3,000th RQ-11A Raven vehicle
rolled of the production line back in March 2006. U.S. armed forces use
Ravens extensively for missions such as base security, route
reconnaissance, mission planning and force protection. According to the
U.S. Army, Ravens were flown for approximately 150,000 combat hours in

The same reasons behind the Raven’s Iraqi success also apply in CENTCOM’s first theater of war:

  • Useful at the battalion level, but so simple to operate that one of the best pilots in the Iraqi theater was a cook.
  • Ideal
    for quick peeks to see what’s on the other side of obstructed terrain –
    like a city block in Iraq, or Afghanistan’s hills and mountains.
  • Switch-in
    IR cameras that some called better than an AH-64 Apache attack
    helicopter’s (presumably the one in TADS/PVNS, not the updated Arrowhead).
  • Small and unobtrusive (wingspan just over 4 feet, weight just over 4 pounds), with low noise signature relative to larger UAVs.
  • So small, in fact, that it can easily be carried by Special Forces scouts and squads.
  • No letters to write if the aircraft goes down.

some Ravens have been shot down, StrategyPage says the most common
cause of loss is losing the communications link or a software/hardware
failure on the aircraft. It also reports that troops in Afghanistan
have taken to putting a translated label on each Raven, noting that a
reward will be given to anyone who returns them to the Americans.
Several lost Ravens have actually been recovered this way.

The Commando Olympics: Other Teams are Competing

Both American UAVs and American UAV doctrine
are attracting interest from other Western Special Forces – and other
branches of the US military. Nevertheless, American UAVs aren’t the
only winners. Elbit’s Skylark, for instance, has emerged as a strong


Australia chose Elbit’s Skylark as its mini-UAV, to complement Israel Aerospace Industries’ larger I-View 250 and some Boeing ScanEagles used at battalion and brigade levels.

Skylark system include 3 Air Vehicles, a Ground Control Station and the
day and night payloads. The system can be carried in two back packs and
operated in mission by two soldiers, but additional launch options are
available – including by air from various manned or unmanned platforms,
or ground launch by rail. The UAV is controlled through full, downsized
or man-portable tactical miniature ground-control stations which draw
from the Hermes UAV family heritage, and offers real time continuous
video and telemetry data transmission via a new Spectralink-developed
data link.


The British SAS purchased a larger
hand-launched UAV called BUSTER (backpack unmanned surveillance
targeting and enhanced reconnaissance) in 2005, which is bigger than
the RQ-11 Raven but has greater endurance, altitude, and range. While
StrategyPage claims that the BUSTER is a derivative of the Raven’s
AeroVironment FQM-151 Pointer predecessor, DID’s research reveals a
very different vehicle with a biplane-like double wing, made by a
different company who seems to have the applicable British contract.

The British are also incorporating Desert Hawk mini-UAVs, and a Sept 27/06 release from the MoD confirmed that they’re using RQ-11 Ravens in Iraq via a partnership with the US Army.


in 2005, Canadian Forces director of operational requirements for
unmanned aerial vehicles, Maj. Keith Laughton, stated that they will be buying portable UAVs
that are similar to the Raven, and that they will be deployed in
Afghanistan by August 2006. “It has been identified as an operational
requirement for Op Archer Roto 2 in August.” At the time, no specific
UAV had been chosen to fulfill this role, though Canada has evaluated the Advanced Ceramics Research Silver Fox mini-UAV (see a more visual report via the CASR think tank).

Canada joined Australia in choosing Elbit’s Skylark. The UAV was first ordered on a temporary basis, as part of the $200 million set of emergency purchases
for Operation Archer in November 2005. It was picked more formally as
Canada’s future mini-UAV in October 2006, following a competition that
reportedly included IAI’s I-View 50 with its unique parafoil landing
system, and Boeing’s larger ScanEagle UAV . Thales Canada will act as the prime contractor.


Sept 11/07, Aerovironment announced that the Danish Army Operational
Command had examined competing offerings, then placed a $2.4 million
order to supply with 12 RQ-11B Raven-B small Unmanned Aircraft Systems
(UAS). The RQ-11B is slightly larger than the original Raven; a Raven-B
system typically consists of three aircraft, a hand-held ground control
station, a remote viewing terminal, systems spares, and related
services, which in this case include logistics support and training

True to form, this is a “commando olympics” purchase:

of the Raven-B systems are planned for delivery to the Jaegerkorpset
(Army Special Forces), with the remainder destined for troop testing by
deployed units at the Danish Army’s Artillery Training Center.”


March 24/08, Elbit Systems Ltd. announces that it has won “a tender
involving 10 of the leading UAV manufacturers worldwide,” and will
supply Skylark I UAV systems to France’s Special Forces. This contract
marks Elbit Systems’ first UAV contract with France.


April 2006, the Dutch bought 10 Aladin UAVs and 5 ground stations for
their Uruzgan mission in Afghanistan; Dutch troops received a crash
course from the German army, who have used the system in Northern
Afghanistan. See DID coverage. The very small size of this order strongly suggests special forces deployment.

On May 30/08, AeroVironment, Inc. announced
that The Netherlands Defence Materiel Organisation (DMO), had awarded a
$.7 million contract for RQ-11B Raven systems as well as training,
logistics support, and airworthiness certification. The release quotes
Frans Klein, Head Section Unmanned Aircrafts for The Netherlands
Defense Materiel Organisation:

performed a thorough competitive selection process and the Raven came
out as a clear winner…. Decisive elements in the selection were
hand-launchability, reliability, ease of use, robustness, and proven,
in-theatre operational performance.”


July 27/07: Following an initial sale of Orbiter mini UAVs
to the Polish Special Forces in 2006, “the customer’s high satisfaction
with the Orbiter’s operational performance in Afghanistan over the past
year has led to a sharp increase in Aeronautics’ activities in Poland
(now a member of NATO), and to the decision by the Polish Ministry of
Defense to equip its other land forces with a large number of similar

The world-wide tender for the $3 million contract
reportedly included 11 other companies, of which 6 made it to the final
stage of the tender. Aeronautics Defense Systems Ltd. will be the sole
supplier of 6 Orbiter systems, each of which includes 3 mini air
vehicles, day and night camera payloads, portable Ground Control
Stations and data links for command and video transmission. Orbiter has
a fully automatic flight control system that includes automatic launch
and recovery. Aeronautics release.


On Jan 14/07, El Pais reported
that The Spanish Ministry of Defence has given the go-ahead to an
urgent purchase of 9 RQ-11B Raven mini-UAV systems (27 UAVs) to
strengthen the protection of Spain’s 742 soldiers deployed in
Afghanistan and 1,100 in Lebanon. The contract amounts to EUR 3.1
million and has been awarded to the Spanish firm Aerlyper as an urgent
acquisition “negociado sin publicidad.”

To date, El Pais
reports that the RQ-11’s manufacturer AeroVironment have sold more than
3,000 units. Thanks to DID reader Pedro Lucio for the pointer and
translation assistance.

This purchase is separate from, but linked to, Spain’s purchase of IAI/UTE Searcher MkII-J tactical UAVs.
The Searcher UAVs will be used for for battalion-level reconnaissance
in depth, as opposed to the Raven’s much shorter range and duration
that gives it only squad/company-level utility. Unfortunately, the
scheduled September 2007 delivery from the Spanish UTE consortium did
not materialize until late December 2007, and the system will not be
operational for several months. The Ravens, which are being produced in
quantity, may well prove to be an immediately available front-line


The Air Force Association’s Oct 15/07 Daily Report says that:

[USAF’s] 380th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron in Southwest Asia
has a new asset: the 35-inch-long unmanned aerial vehicle called the
Raven B. MSgt. Ruby Zarzyczny reports that airmen, who are using the
4.2-pound UAV, with a wing span of 65 inches, for reconnaissance,
surveillance, force protection, battle damage assessment, and convoy
security missions, adopted the small UAV from the Army. Previously the
airmen used the slightly larger Desert Hawk, but “its capabilities far
exceed the previous air frame,” said 1st Lt. Daryl Crosby, with the
380th ESFS. For one thing, operators can launch Raven B from moving
vehicles, roof tops, or any open area, and it can go to war in a
backpack. It takes both still photos and live video.”


Feb 6/08:
AveroVironment, Inc. in Simi Valley, CA received a $45.9 million
firm-fixed-price and cost-plus-fixed-fee contract for the SOCOM Raven
Systems (newer RQ-11B) and initial spares packages. Work will be
performed in Simi Valley, CA and is expected to be complete by Jan
31/09. One bid was solicited on Jan. 30, 2008, and 1 bid was received
by the U.S. Army Aviation & Missile Command in Huntsville, AL

According to Aerovironment’s Feb 7/08 release,
the option was submitted under the existing U.S. Army joint small UAS
program of record for the RQ-11, which provides systems for the US Army
and Marine Corps. The contract also allows for contract additions from
US Special Operations Command and other U.S. military services.

(Originally posted on November 2, 2005)

Additional Readings & Sources:

  • Designation Systems – AeroVironment FQM-151 Pointer. The Pointer first flew in 1986 and entered operations with the US Marine Corps in June 1988. It is also used by the US Army.
  • Talking Proud – Battle for Fallujah. Includes some pictures of Ravens in use, and descriptions of how UAVs were used before the battle.
  • Popular Science (May 2003) – The Revolution Will Not Be Piloted.
    Good multinational overview of UAV systems at all scales; page 3 of 6
    covers “mini-UAVs” like the Pointer. Since the article, more new models
    have arrived… including the RQ-11 Raven.

Source: http://www.defenseindustrydaily.com/raven-uavs-winning-gold-in-afghanistans-commando-olympics-01432/