The Army is developing a requirement for a ‘family of systems’ for small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), an official from Program Executive Office (PEO) Aviation recently said.

“What we want to be able to do is give the brigade commander a tool kit with an aircraft that is perhaps smaller than the Raven, the Raven itself, and one that is larger,” Col. Gregory Gonzalez, UAS project manager at PEO Aviation, told reporters at the Association of the United States Army Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C.

AeroVironment‘s [AVAV] Raven is the Army’s sole program of record for small UAS. The unmanned aircraft has been receiving rave reviews, especially in Afghanistan where brigade commanders cannot get enough of the small reconnaissance drones, Gonzalez said. However, it is limited in terms of how far it can fly and what it can do, he added.

While the capability production document is being written, the Army has allowed the program office to field into Afghanistan a brigade set of a family of systems consisting of Raven, Wasp, and Puma UAS, Gonzalez said.

AeroVironment also makes the Wasp and Puma. Wasp is smaller than Raven, with about 45 minutes of endurance, as compared to Raven’s 90 minutes, and Puma is the largest, able to remain aloft for about two hours. All are classified as small unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) that soldiers can launch by hand.

Fifteen of those sets, all analog versions, went to a brigade in the 101st division, Gonzalez said. Sets of a particular UAS typically include multiple UAVs and ground equipment.

The sets have been deployed for about six months, and are intended to remain in theater for about one year overall. PEO Aviation will do an evaluation of the success or failure of the concept and that will be used to help develop the finalized requirements document. Once approved, the Army will continue to develop and field a family of systems, Gonzalez said.

“The key in the northeast [part of Afghanistan] is having that Puma, it’s just critical…to have a higher altitude capability and longer endurance for the soldiers,” he said.

While all three UAS are produced by AeroVironment, Gonzalez stressed that this effort was a proof of principle. There will most likely be a competition in the end to find out what the other members of the family of systems are, though Gonzalez thought that Raven would clearly be one of those included.

Additionally, having a single common controller for the various systems has emerged as a necessity. “Any time you give a soldier one piece of equipment that he can use for multiple things, then that’s a good news story,” Gonzalez said. “The key in the family of systems is that no matter what the end solution is, we’re going to have to have one controller.”

Gonzalez said that PEO Aviation is also responding to a very high priority joint operational needs statement that came in within the last several months. It had direct involvement from Army Gen. David Petraeus, commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, and other leaders stating the need for a Puma-type capability to do route reconnaissance and IED clearance.

Since Raven was the Army’s only program of record for small UAS, Gonzalez’s team went through U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) because it has a contract with AeroVironment for Puma.

“AeroVironment reacted very quickly, and because of that partnership with SOCOM we are going to be able to get those Pumas, the 72 that were required into theater, and train our soldiers, and have them operating within months of putting it on contract,” Gonzalez said. “That’s a tremendous statement because it takes a long time to get these things on contract and get the wheels spinning, and without the contractor’s ability to lean forward and do things in advance, the Army would not have that great support, my hat’s off to AeroVironment for that.”