AeroVironment, Inc. (NASDAQ: AVAV), a global leader in unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) for both defence and commercial applications, today announced the successful maritime demonstration of a Puma™-Switchblade® automated sensor-to-shooter (S2S) capability from a US Navy Coastal Riverine Craft for increased mission autonomy to counter threats.
The tightly integrated walk-on/walk-off system uses existing RQ-20B Puma Block 2 – All Environment small UAS with the new Mantis i45 sensor gimbal combined with automatic coordinate transmission to the battle-proven Switchblade lethal loitering missile to quickly and accurately surveil and respond to threats on land or at sea.
“This new combination of our Puma unmanned aircraft system with our Switchblade loitering missile system gives commanders unprecedented ability to identify threats at long ranges, limit collateral damage and wave off targets subsequently deemed neutral or friendly,” said Rick Pedigo, vice president of AeroVironment’s Tactical Missile Systems business.
In a sensor-to-shooter mission, Puma, as a long-endurance intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) small UAS asset with a high-resolution day/night camera, positively identifies a target of interest and automatically passes the target location to Switchblade prior to its launch. Once Switchblade is launched, Puma continuously transmits the target location throughout the engagement sequence. When the target is in the field of view of Switchblade’s optical sensors, the Switchblade mission operator confirms the target and the Switchblade vehicle operator engages the threat. Switchblade continues to offer regret (wave-off) capability if, at any time, the target is identified as neutral or friendly.
In the Maritime demonstration, Puma identified a series of fast-attack craft moving toward a host platform and transmitted their target coordinates to Switchblade prior to launch. Once launched, Switchblade automatically flew to the fast-moving target and the operator defeated the threat by engaging it with an inert payload.
“Our sensor-to-shooter solution greatly enhances Switchblade’s capability to positively identify targets and reduce engagement timelines by performing target identification and location functions prior to launch,” said Pedigo. “By continuously updating the target location throughout the engagement, S2S significantly reduces the Switchblade operator’s workload.”
Sensor-to-shooter combines AeroVironment’s fielded Puma Block 2 (the “sensor”) and Switchblade loitering munition (the “shooter”) with additional equipment – a ruggedized laptop with S2S software, a Pocket DDL™ data link module and a larger gain antenna – to forward the Puma payload’s center field of view (CFOV) electronically to Switchblade as its target coordinate. On the laptop, the simultaneous Puma and Switchblade video dramatically elevates operator situational awareness and reduces the chances of mis-targeting.
“With future enhancements, multiple simultaneous threats can be defeated,” said Pedigo. Future enhancements will include a multi-pack launcher that holds up to six Switchblade munitions and software that allows operators to control multiple air vehicles simultaneously.
S2S currently is a prototype with plans for product release in the fall of 2018. Currently fielded Switchblade systems can be upgraded with the S2S capability.