The future for Simi Valley-based AeroVironment is not just about unmanned platforms, but, “also about robotics, sensors, connectivity and software analytics,” according to David Sharpin, the company’s Vice President for Sales and Business Development.
While AeroVironment continues to focus on point, or platform, solutions, it is also starting to look at more specific technology answers for its current and prospective customers. “This means tying together our UAS with other systems, and with munitions such as our SWITCHBLADE, or others. And we’re going to keep bringing out new products and upgrading our products in our particular ‘verticals’,” in essence making the company a total solution provider, the industry veteran explained.
Indeed, autonomy, one emergent technology thrust, is a focus of an innovation cell established at Simi Valley. Focusing on a specific, recent platform, AeroVironment unveiled PUMA 3 AE at 2018 AUSA Global. The product has since gained certifications and completed other pre-operational milestones, with the company now stepping up its efforts to sell the platform. PUMA 3 AE is equipped with one standard corporate product, the MANTIS i45 Gimbal and is also fitted with two new standard transceivers (M125 [for domestic customers] and 346 [international customers]).
“We’ve also upgraded to AES-256 encryption and have really ‘beefed up’ the platform so it can not only handle the i45 camera but a secondary payload – RF or other,” Mr. Sharpin said and added, “and one of the biggest things we have done for our customers is reduce the pack out from six to four cases. We can get a single, flyable bird in one case – this total effort provides a 33% reduction in volume.”
While PUMA 3 AE’s new battery does not increase the platform’s 2.5-hour endurance, it provides additional safety features. Of additional note, the 3 AE’s new Long Range Tracking Antenna (LRTA) System increases detection range to 60km [37.2mi]. LRTAs have been sold to unspecified European military customers. Beyond a specific platform, the community expert also pointed out that interconnectivity is another major area of interest for the firm’s current and prospective customers, in essence allowing interface with other software systems.
Peering out to this October’s AUSA conference in Washington, DC, Mr. Sharpin, suggested MONCh be attentive to AeroVironment’s, “extension of PUMA.” While declining to detail whether this extension pertains to range or other enhancements, he responded: “This will be very exciting for us. You will see in October.”
Manned-unmanned teaming is of increasing importance to military forces. Mr. Sharpin was asked how AeroVironment is advancing the capabilities of its products to be part of this mission set. He called attention to his company’s partnership with General Dynamics, which has AeroVironment pairing its UASs and loitering munition systems, with GD’s ground platforms (more here). “This is manned-unmanned teaming right there -- that is ground-to-air unmanned teaming. It is going very well and we’re excited about this partnership,” Mr. Sharpin emphasised.
Returning to the topic of loitering munition systems, the company executive noted his company is continuing to expand the SWITCHBLADE family (for instance with BLACKWING [designed to provide rapid response intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance from a wide variety of operational platforms including undersea, surface, air, land, and mobile launch vehicles]). “We are excited about the future and look forward to sharing more information later this year,” he concluded.