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How did AeroVironment become the largest supplier of small UAS?
AeroVironment is a global leader in intelligent, multi-domain robotic systems. Serving defense, government and commercial customers, AeroVironment provides technology solutions at the intersection of robotics, sensors, software analytics and connectivity. With a purpose to secure lives and advance sustainability through transformative innovation, the company has become a leader in unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), unmanned ground vehicles (UGV),tactical missile systems (TMS) and high-altitude pseudo-satellites (HAPS).
AeroVironment's small unmanned aircraft systems team has been focused on this technology for more than two decades. Since developing and introducing the first hand-launched small UAS for military reconnaissance in 1987, the team has been working closely with customers to understand how this system capability is used and could be used to be even more helpful. This continuous feedback loop continues to drive product enhancements and product development. The team consists of engineers, program managers, customer service providers, trainers, business managers, and, operations personnel, among others. This focus has enabled AeroVironment to compete for and win all four U.S. Department of Defense full and open competitions for programs of record involving small UAS. As a result, by July 2011 AeroVironment had provided 85% of all the unmanned aircraft in the Department of Defense inventory.
For example, the conclusion in a 2004 U.S. Army Natick Soldier Center report states:
The success of the…Raven system is attributed to a number of factors. Most importantly, this system was developed by users, with the government engineering team acting as a conduit to the developer/manufacturer. The system would not be the success that it is without the input of the warfighter.
What’s the difference between “UAS”, “UAV”, “RPAS” and “Drone”?
“UAS” stands for Unmanned Aircraft System. AeroVironment’s UAS are sophisticated systems comprising air vehicles, payloads and ground control stations, and we support our customer by providing training, repairs, and customer service and in some cases even operating our systems and providing the resulting information to our customers. AeroVironment takes a systems approach to innovation, providing customers with a complete solution that integrates easily into the way they work. “UAV” stands for Unmanned Aerial Vehicle. “RPAS” stands for Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems. “Drone” tends to refer to radio controlled airplanes with little or no integrated technology or sophisticated capabilities.
What are the key differences between AeroVironment’s small UAS and R/C (radio-controlled) aircraft?
We design all of our small UAS to meet aggressive military requirements for performance, robustness, ease of use and reliability. These requirements demand that our systems meet certain rigorous “Mil Specs” requiring advanced engineering and production capabilities. Our small UAS represent highly integrated, highly engineered systems incorporating technologies for flight control, encrypted radio communications, sophisticated sensor payloads, advanced battery technology, advanced ground control stations and more. Operators of AeroVironment’s small UAS do not actually control the aircraft’s flight; they simply direct the sensor to an area of interest using a simple ground controller. The advanced autopilot built into the aircraft performs all flight controls to provide the operator with the vantage point they need to perform a mission. R/C Aircraft are designed and manufactured primarily for hobby applications and therefore do not possess the capabilities and characteristics of AeroVironment’s small UAS.
What has driven the adoption of AeroVironment’s small UAS?
The portability (back packable) and design of AeroVironment’s UAS for rapid deployment (operational in minutes) provides the operator a battle-proven reconnaissance capability that can be launched and recovered easily from almost any location. These UAS provide immediate intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, whereas previously soldiers had to make requests up the chain of command for access to information from a satellite or larger unmanned aircraft, which could take hours or days to fulfill, if at all. Now, within minutes, soldiers can have binoculars in the sky to see a danger zone over a hill, ahead of a convoy or around a building.
Are AeroVironment’s UAS good for only one flight?
We design our small UAS to perform numerous flights. While the number of flights each air vehicle can perform depends on how they are used, we have received reports of our small UAS performing hundreds of flights.
How difficult are they to use?
The AeroVironment family of small UAS are easy-to-use, robust and reliable in the most challenging conditions. No runway or auxiliary equipment (catapult, net or cable) is needed for launch, operation or recovery of the aircraft. They are modular, which enables operators to “pop” the pieces together to assemble the aircraft rapidly, and easily replace damaged parts while in the field.
In many cases the AeroVironment family of small UAS have become standard issue, along with helmets and boots.
What sort of missions do they carry out?
AeroVironment’s small UAS are primarily used as an ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) asset. These systems provide the frontline soldier and small units with enhanced situational awareness and increased force protection. They reduce exposure to danger for warfighters in high-risk situations. The current threat environment requires that many U.S. and allied military forces operate in small teams, far away from their bases, in urban, mountainous and rural areas where the enemy uses the familiar terrain and local support to their advantage. U.S. and allied squads in hostile areas often can’t see over hills, up the road or around buildings without putting themselves in danger. Information produced by reconnaissance satellites and aircraft typically is not available to the squads when and where they need it. They need immediate reconnaissance, which is what small UAS deliver.
Why are these small UAS needed when the big UAS seem to be doing the job?
The frontline is where time is scarcest and risk is highest. Troops need information “here and now.” Larger UAS cannot be everywhere at all times, leaving significant seams in coverage. Tactical teams carry, use and command their small UAS, while larger UAS transmit their information to command centers and sometimes to troops.
Small UAS are practical “organic” tools for small teams, including military, law enforcement and border security. All Department of Defense ground forces have adopted small UAS and have institutionalized them into the way they plan, train, equip and operate. Small UAS have transitioned from a useful new tool to military doctrine, similar to the way night vision systems have been adopted and have proliferated.
Do they require training in order to operate or can they just use an owner’s manual?
A training program for new users is approximately 10 days. For example, the Raven Training Class was developed to meet all operational requirements defined by the customer. This includes a detailed understanding of the Raven System, operational proficiency, air space management and general system maintenance.
How was the user interface designed?
AeroVironment’s universal ground control unit was designed with the difficult combat environment in mind, with incorporating minimal controls, intuitive operation, and the ability to effectively handle a large majority of missions effectively.
Can these UAS be hijacked and controlled by the enemy?
AeroVironment’s digital data link that is integrated into all our small UAS enables an encrypted voice, video, data and text network over the battlefield, rendering each system extremely protected from an unauthorized operator taking control.
Analog systems provide only 4 channels within the frequency spectrum allocated by the DoD. With digital data link there are up to 40 channels available. More channels mean that more small unmanned aircraft can fly in any given area without signal interference with one another.
Why does AeroVironment make different sizes of small UAS, especially when there isn’t much difference in these sizes?
AeroVironment’s family of small, hand-launched, battery-powered UAS wirelessly stream live color or infrared video directly to frontline troops to give soldiers, marines and airmen situational awareness during a firefight or for any type of surveillance need at any time. This “toolkit” gives soldiers the option of choosing the aircraft most appropriate for their need, such as the 2.85-pound Wasp™ AE, 4.8-pound Raven® and 13-pound Puma™ AE. The Raven can fly for 90 minutes. Wasp has an endurance of 50 minutes and originated from a combat need for Combat Controllers and Tactical Air Control Party Airmen to carry equipment needed to engage enemy forces and protect themselves. A larger UAS such as the Puma AE can carry a “larger” battery thereby delivering increased flight (mission) duration (2 hours). The Puma AE design also allows for greater payload capacity (size and weight). Generally, the larger payloads provide the operator some level of sensor performance improvement.
Why did AeroVironment develop a lethal UAS?
Switchblade™ is a loitering, or agile, munition system that employs technologies we developed for our small UAS and packages them into a game-changing solution for tactical, precision strike. Switchblade is designed to provide the warfighter with a powerfully effective tool for force protection. We think protecting our armed forces is important work that is worth doing and that can help grow the company. Our strategy is to identify “white spaces” where we can deliver an innovative solution that helps customers succeed.
How many employees does AeroVironment have?
AeroVironment employs 1,214 full-time employees (as of April 30, 2022).
How big is AeroVironment?
The company has grown from $29.4 million in revenue in fiscal 2001 to $445.7 million in fiscal 2022.