AeroVironment said Oct. 14 it has launched the newest iteration of its Puma All Environment (AE) small unmanned aerial system dubbed Puma LE (Long Endurance), offering increased range and endurance along with extra payload capacity for the warfighter.

The aircraft, which has already conducted operational tests, weighs under 23 pounds and can be launched by hand or by bungee, said Wahid Nawabi, company president and CEO. It can perform for over five hours, with an operational range of about 37 miles when used with the company’s long-range tracking antenna.

The company is bringing Group 2 UAS capabilities to a Group 1 footprint and price point, he said Monday at the Association for the United States Army’s annual conference in Washington, D.C.

Operators would like systems “that are much smaller, weigh a lot less, can be assembled and deployed a lot faster,” Nawabi said.

The Puma LE “allows a customer that is using a Group 2 UAV to achieve those missions for literally a fraction of the cost and footprint” relative to a traditional unmanned aircraft of that size and capability.

It is built for multi-mission operations with over five pounds of total payload capacity, but a secondary payload bar allows for integration of additional third-party payloads for applications such as electronic warfare, communications relay, radio frequency emitter, geolocation and more.

Nawabi highlighted the “plug-and-play interoperability” that allows Puma LE to be compatible with other AeroVironment products – specifically Puma AE 2 and 3 – that helps reduce training and logistical time for operators. Current Puma 2 and 3 users can upgrade their current systems “seamlessly” buy procuring Puma LE as an add-on aircraft and install its line-replaceable unit components.

“Downrange, you can get 11 hours of ISR capability with just a quick five-minute battery swap out,” Nawabi said.

The Puma LE aircraft and ground control system also fit in two pelican cases, be noted.

The company is currently accepting orders for the Puma LE and expects delivery to begin in spring 2020.

AeroVironment may plan to offer Puma LE as one option for the Future Tactical Unmanned Aerial System (FTUAS) component of the Army’s Future Vertical Lift modernization program. The service plans to replace its RQ-7 Shadow fleet with a firm-fixed-price procurement contract to run through 2022, with a $99.5 million ceiling cap for the award.

“It could be one of the solutions, not all of the solutions that we offer,” Nawabi said.

He pointed to Aerovironment’s longtime track record of battle-tested solutions with the Army and other services, as well as over 40 allied nations as a testament to the new aircraft’s future benefit to the service and other customers.

“Essentially all of our solutions are developed … with direct input from real operators in the field,” he said, noting that the Puma LE aircraft on display at the conference is an operational unit that was flown last week.

“These are not marketing mockups; these are real-life prototypes and products … that flew in the field,” he said.