KUWAIT -- The Raven could very well be the little engine that could of the unmanned aerial vehicle fleet.
Weighing in at four and a half pounds with a five-foot wingspan and stretching a mere 38 inches in length, the Raven is by far one of the smallest vehicles in the Army, but its aerial reconnaissance value has quickly earned the respect of battalion commanders in Iraq and has filled a niche at the battalion level when larger UAVs are unavailable.
The system is developing the confidence of the leadership, said Maj. Chris Brown, Kuwait Raven Equipping Detachment officer in charge. We had one commander's team find an IED (improvised explosive device) on its first mission, and the commander has been sold ever since.
The Raven flies various missions that aid in force protection. It is flown to search for IEDs, provide reconnaissance for patrols and flies the perimeter of camps.
When a company or battalion can't get the larger UAV, such as the Hunter, Shadow and Inet, ... the Raven works very well, said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Steve Schisler, Raven integration and customer service officer.
Schisler explained that the Raven is best employed in conjunction with ground forces. "If you have guys doing a mounted or dismounted patrol in a city or a small town, you can have the Raven flying overhead providing far-sight security.
He continued, The patrol can't see past the building 100 meters in front of them, but the Raven can. The Raven can see beyond the building to where two terrorists with their AK-47s are running to engage the patrol.
The Soldiers can then respond to the intelligence rather than respond to an attack."
The UAV is small and can be transported easily in three small cases that fit into a ruck sack. The crew can bring it with them and operate wherever the patrol goes.
The Raven three different cameras that attach to the nose of the plane, an electrical optical camera that sends data either through a nose camera or a side camera, an infrared camera in the nose, and a side-mounted IR camera.
The IR technology is still too big to fit into the nose section of the plane, Brown said.
The camera does not have a zoom and is unable to lock on a target but provides enough resolution to show someone carrying a weapon.
"You have to select what camera is going to be best for the mission at hand, Brown said. For example, if you're flying over a city and there are shadows, the IR camera can penetrate the shadows and show the hotspots.
He added, "The average Apache pilot would say that the IR on this is better than the Apache, and I would have to agree."
One of the advantages of the Raven is that it provides real time data that can be recorded to a video camera.
The Raven has about 45 to 60 minutes of flight time on a battery. The kit comes with spare batteries and a charger that plugs into a Humvee so they can land it, pop in a spare battery and get it back in the air.
Schislers role with the Raven had him travel throughout Iraq to provide customer service to units who flew the UAV. The longest continuous operation Schisler recalled was for more than 10 hours, where they would land the plane, change batteries and launch the aircraft again.
Where large UAVs need space to taxi and land, the Raven is launched by hand and requires one pilot and a second person to monitor the incoming information.
Brnow said, The Raven is not MOS specific, but rather the question is who can the unit use?
One example Brown gave was the food service specialists in Iraq have a smaller role because the food services are contracted to Kellog, Brown and Root.
"One of the best pilots in the 1st Cav. is a cook, but that doesn't mean we don't have ... scouts operating the Raven, he said. Some of these kids have been raised with Playstation in their hands and are better able to handle watching a screen and controlling the aircraft.
A single Raven costs about $35,000 and the total system costs $250,000 but that is a cheap OH-58C, Brown said.
"With this system, we replace a helicopter and crew that's down range and put a system at risk rather than people, he added