2018 AUSA Global Force Symposium & Exposition End-of-Day Report (Day 2 27 March)
“The news at this conference is about PUMA 3,” David Sharpin, Vice President for the Tactical UAS Business Unit at AeroVironment, said and emphasised in an interview at the company’s booth (#1429): “We’re taking orders.”
The real story about the new product was its genesis – with AeroVironment responding to its customers’ evolving requirements. In one instance, some end users wanted the platform to carry multiple payloads, not just an EO/IR camera, but for SIGINT and other missions. He added: “We wanted to make sure the platform could handle those additional payloads – as you know we auto land – that is a pretty strenuous environment. So, we upgraded the structure of the airframe.”
Addressing other trends in this community, Mr. Sharpin pointed out: “Batteries are big things for us in terms of the endurance of the platform. So, we are upgrading the batteries in the system. This is a ‘smart’ battery that also addresses overall safety. The smart battery monitors the health of the battery. We’re also putting new cells into the battery.”
AeroVironment maintains a battery supplier base of several unspecified companies.
Asked how AeroVironment is further increasing range and endurance of its platforms, Mr. Sharpin also pointed to the long-range tracking antenna for the PUMA 3 data link side: “This extends the data link range to about 60 kilometres.”
The PUMA 3 data link further has security upgrades to support operation in more challenging radio frequency environments, with M1/M2/M5 and M3/M4/M6 frequency bands and with AES-256 encryption. And then there is increasing the PUMA 3’s endurance, which the AeroVironment executive said: “We’ll talk more about this at AUSA this October.”
AeroVironment is also heeding the persistent request of the US military to reduce materiel’s footprint. To that end, the company also has optimised the portability of PUMA 3 from six transport cases to four, with a flyable configuration in a single transport case that features luggage-type handles.
And beyond PUMA 3, “we’re really also on the verge of coming out with a new set of platforms, which I cannot talk about,” Mr. Sharpin said and added, “but what I can talk about is our SNIPE Nano UAS. We have come out with that for many customers. One of our biggest is the US Army. We also have a number of international customers.” The NanoUAS remains organic to the individual soldier and continues to weigh in under 150 grams.
Asked how small NanoUAS platforms can continue to evolve, the industry expert noted: “There’s a challenging engineering tradeoff between wanting it fly long enough and having a sensor. While I wouldn’t want to prognosticate to say that we’re nearing the practical limit for using it, there is a size that we think is practical – based on battery technology and other considerations.”