U.K. ROYAL NAVY
Senior Chief Engineman Bradley Williamson, left, and
Engineman 1st Class Michael Lamb, both assigned to
Riverine Squadron 2, Detachment 3, conduct preflight
checks on the PUMA AE (Pointer Upgraded Mission Ability
— All Environment) aircraft aboard the U.K. Royal Fleet
Auxiliary amphibious landing dock vessel RFA Cardigan
Bay Sept. 25 in the U.S. Fifth Fleet Area of Responsibility
as U.K. Royal Navy mine hunter HMS Shoreham operates
nearby. The U.S. Navy is testing PUMA AE for land and
and digitally stabilized gimbaled payloads. PUMA AE
can be recovered in very tight areas using the
autonomous or manual deep-stall landing capability.
“PUMA AE brings some unique capabilities to our
operating forces,” Rector said. “As the largest Group 1
UAS, PUMA not only has the longest endurance of any
small UAS in our current portfolio, but it also possesses adequate payload capacity to support future integration of advanced payloads.
“The modular payload design enables alternative payload development for specific applications,” Rector said.
The PUMA AE is controlled by the same ground
control station (GCS) used to control the Marine
Corps’ RQ-11B Raven and Wasp UAVs.
The GCS, which requires only one operator, “looks
like a large hand-held video game with a large color
monitor in the middle of it and buttons on the side and
on the back,” Gitlin said. “You could set up GPS [Global
Positioning System] way points either on the ground
control system or the laptop computer that comes with
it, or you can fly it manually or you can go back and
forth between those modes. The operator doesn’t fly the
aircraft, [but] steers the camera and the onboard computer controls the aircraft to ensure that whatever you
want to see is kept in the field of view.”
“The PUMA AE UAV is lightweight, portable and
works very well in the marine environment, making it
ideal for use in the Coastal Riverine Force,” said Cmdr.
Pete Berning, branch head for Coastal Riverine and
Navy Expeditionary Intelligence Command Warfare
Requirements at Navy Expeditionary Combat Com-
mand (NECC) in Virginia Beach, Va. “The primary
benefits of the PUMA AE UAV are its ability to land
and be recovered from the water, and ability to be
launched by hand. These features provide a significant
amount of operational flexibility for Coastal Riverine
Force small boat operators.”
The PUMA AE first entered service in 2008 with U.S.
Special Operations Command, satisfying the need for
one small UAV suitable for all environments. The Army
placed orders worth $20.4 million in March 2012, fol-
lowed by a $2.4 million Air Force order and a $5.6 mil-
lion Marine Corps the same month. A follow-on order
for contractor logistics support for the Marine Corps
valued at $2.2 million was awarded in September.
Delivery of all 13 systems for the Marine Corps took
place in May, with all systems fielded operationally by
June, including in support of Operation Enduring
Freedom in Afghanistan with combat engineer battalions and combat logistics battalions.
Three air vehicles are fielded with each PUMA AE
system, Rector said. The Marines use the PUMA AE
primarily for surveillance in support of route clearance
and combat logistics patrols.
“PUMA supports these patrols by providing a relatively long endurance airborne surveillance capability
to aid in the detection of improvised explosive devices
(IEDs), IED materials and IED emplacement teams,
[and] monitor cleared areas to detect IED reseeding,”
The RQ-20As operated by the Marines use a digital
data link. The PUMA AEs flown by the Navy’s expedi-
tionary forces have operated an older analog system
“for a number of years,” Rector said. “However, the
Navy will begin upgrading its systems to [digital] in
the latter half of 2013.”
“The PUMA AE UAV provides situational awareness
for Coastal Riverine forces,” Berning said, noting that
the system is used in the Persian Gulf. NECC operates
12 PUMA AE systems.
AeroVironment declined to reveal the total number
of PUMA AE UAVs it has delivered, though more than
1,000 had been delivered as of April, according to
Aviation International News’ AIN Online.
Gitlin declined to reveal the unit cost of a PUMA
AE, but noted that the smaller Raven “typically sells
for between $100,000 and $200,000 to the government, [depending on] volume and payload. PUMA is a
bit more expensive than that.” ■