LAS VEGAS–The Army has begun taking delivery of AeroVironment’s [AVAV] latest version of the Raven unmanned aerial vehicle that is gimbal equipped with simultaneous infrared and electro-optical imagery for 360-degree vision, an Army officer overseeing the program said recently.

Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Poquette, the assistant project manager for small unmanned aerial systems (SUAS), said the Army plans to begin deploying the upgraded Ravens to theater this fall, bringing an added capability to the Ravens that have been fielded in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Those Ravens were equipped with a fixed camera that required the pilot to maneuver the aircraft to acquire visuals. The gimbal version will effectively “reduce the burden on the operator,” Poquette said at the Association For Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) symposium here.

The Army has purchased more than 4,000 Raven airframes in the SUAS program and this year began taking delivery of AeroVironment’s Puma UAV, which is larger than Raven and carries a bigger payload. AeroVironment introduced the gimbals on Puma.

Poquette said the deployment of the small unmanned systems provided by AeroVironment and other companies has been a valuable tool in monitoring suspicious activities, tracking enemy militants and detecting roadside bombs.

But he also provided a glimpse into where he believes small unmanned systems need to go in in the future. He emphasized the need to make the systems easier to operate for the end user to reduce the “concentration burden.” He also said industry needs to improve the time needed to launch the systems.

Over time, Poquette said the SUAS mission could expand into biological and chemical hazard detection and signals intelligence (SIGINT) to intercept enemy cell phone communications. He envisions small UAVs operating as communication relays for ground soldiers.

He also foresees UAVs being developed that are smaller and stealthier with higher levels of flight time endurance.