The Little Plane That Could

The Raven is a portable, durable UAV that requires minimal training, effort and coordination. (Photo: US Army)

The Raven is a portable, durable UAV that requires minimal training, effort and coordination. (Photo: US Army)

U.S. Army MAJ Noma C. Martini recently returned from Iraq after a year-long deployment with the 2/3 Spartan Brigade in Mosul.

As a war-fighting technology that fosters new doctrine, organizations, and requires specialized training, the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) is arguably the military’s newest example of a Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA).

From the strategic level drone weapons platform to the tactical Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) collection platforms, the UAV has become a driving force of change in modern warfare. The UAV’s versatility and utility will likely become an icon of the Global War on Terror (GWOT) era and a RMA of a generation of unmanned war-fighting enablers.

For the Second Heavy Brigade Combat Team (2HBCT), “The Spartan Brigade,” the small UAV known as the Raven is a combat proven enabler of the HBCT’s Full Spectrum Operations (FSO). Of the various types of UAVs employed in support of 2HBCT, the Raven has had the least public attention but has led the way as the most accessible, responsive, and field expedient UAV and ISR instrument in the HBCT’s inventory. The Raven is portable, durable, and relatively simple to employ, requiring minimal training, effort and coordination. This unprecedented capability at the tactical level has many advantages that enhance situational awareness for the maneuver commander and contribute to the development of his tactical situational understanding.

The Spartan Brigade arrived in Northern Iraq in October 2009 in support of OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM (OIF) 09-10. Upon assuming responsibility of the Ninewa Province, 2HBCT started a campaign to counter the enemy’s frequent indirect fire (IDF) threat targeting United States Forces (USF) and Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) operating bases.  One such attack occurred on November 10, 2009, just prior to the 2HBCT’s transfer of authority of the mission and battle space. This attack consisted of 20 to 25 80mm mortar rounds impacting the Joint Security Site located in Tal Abtah. This attack illustrates the type of operational environment[1] in which 2HBCT assumed.

A component of 2HBCT’s enduring counter-IDF effort was the aggressive employment of the Raven. Based on the intelligence preparation of the battlefield[2] and the development of Named Areas of Interest (NAI)[3], the staff developed a pattern analysis of locations and times that drove the employment schedule to counter the enemy activities against the facilities and bases. Nested in the Battalion and Squadron ISR plans, the capability of the Raven proved essential in bridging the void of operational level enablers left in the wake of the USF draw down.

Raven Master Trainers at the Brigade level play a critical role in the success of the Raven program. (Photo: US Army)

Raven Master Trainers at the Brigade level play a critical role in the success of the Raven program. (Photo: US Army)

Despite the constant Reduction of Forces (RDoF), ISR, rotor-wing and other warfighting enablers, 2HBCT effectively reduced the IDF activity by 44 percent in the first five months (from 9 monthly attacks to 4). As other tactical, operational, and strategic level enablers were reduced, the Raven flight hours increased to compensate. Although the enemy IDF activity could have increased proportionally to the reduction in enablers, these attacks declined in relation to the increased Raven sorties and continuous observation of the NAIs. This development can best be attributed to the audio signature to the Raven.

Aside from the obvious benefits of having an organic ISR asset at the company level, one of the greatest capabilities of the Raven is its audio signature. When employed in certain flight profiles, the sound of the Raven is an effective tool that proved to disrupt the enemy’s activities. The distinct Raven buzzing noise alerts the enemy that the USF are nearby, watching their activities, and can action lethal or non-lethal fires. This technique is most effective when properly coupled with successful “sensors-to-shooter” engagements. The Raven is the sensor and the attack helicopters are most commonly used as the shooter. It does not take long for the enemy to associate the audio signature of the Raven with the lethal effects of USF action. The end state is an effective disruption effort of the enemy’s activities.

In January 2010, 2HBCT received 10 separate IDF attacks in various locations that targeted USF bases. At the time, the Brigade averaged 80 Raven flight hours per month. BCT units increased Raven sorties four fold in the month of February 2010. This increase in sorties directly correlated to the reduction in enemy IDF attacks in the following seven months (see Figure 1).

An increase in Raven sorties in February 2010 directly correlated to the reduction in enemy IDF attacks in the following seven months. (Image:  US Army)

2HBCT primarily employed the Raven in support of the local security and base defense architecture of the 13 static tripartite checkpoints, six Joint Service Sites, and one Contingency Operations Site. All of these facilities were vulnerable to enemy IDF attacks. In one such area in the Tigris River Valley, 1-64 Armor Battalion’s Raven operator identified two 107 mm rockets aimed at the Company’s Logistical Support Area (LSA) while conducting a routine R&S flight of the surrounding area. The unit successfully dispatched an element to disarm the rockets and to exploit the site. The Raven operator effectively prevented an imminent attack on the unit’s base. It is important to note that several months prior, in February 2010, 1-64 AR received a mortar attack consisting of several 82 mm mortar rounds that injured two Soldiers, one of which received life-threatening wounds to the face.

To date, 2HBCT has flown over 1,600 Raven sorties, and logged over 2,000 flight hours in support of combat operations in the Northern Province of Ninewa. The high operational tempo, coupled with the continuous use of the Raven, has stressed the Brigade’s Raven Operational Readiness Rate (OR Rate), estimated at 70 percent. The Raven is a “Commercial, Off-The-Self” (COTS) fielding and is not managed nor tracked within the Army’s Property Book Unit Supply (PBUS) system. Managed and supplied by the Field Service Representative (FSR) from a warehouse located in central Iraq, the resupply time for Raven durable components averages five days from the time of order. Durable components include wings, nose cones, and the rudder. Non-expendable components, such as the payload (camera) and aircraft fuselage, require a one-for-one trade at the FSR’s warehouse.

The designated proponent of the Raven, the Brigade Aviation Element (BAE) and Air Defense Airspace Management (ADAM) Cell, maintains a small bench stock of the Raven durable items to facilitate responsiveness to the subordinate unit’s demand for parts. Although, the FSR is reluctant to support this initiative, it helps the overall effort to meet the supply and demand requirements by subordinate units and facilitates the FSR’s responsibility to provide timely and responsive support to the Soldiers. The BAE staff consolidates the Brigade’s Raven status on a daily basis and tallies the data for a weekly brief to provide the 2HBCT Commander a snapshot of the Brigade’s overall Raven OR Rate and effective employment.

When employed in certain flight profiles, the sound of the Raven is an effective tool that proved to disrupt the enemy’s activities. (Photo: US Army)

When employed in certain flight profiles, the sound of the Raven is an effective tool that proved to disrupt the enemy’s activities. (Photo: US Army)

2HBCT deployed in support of OIF 09-10 at 80 percent strength for Raven Operators due to a shortage of available Raven Operator training slots. This shortage was not fully addressed until midway through the deployment with the help of the Raven Mobile Training Team (MTT), from Fort Benning, Georgia. The MTT trained 25 Raven Operators; this was essential in increasing the Brigade’s depth in available Raven Operators and capacity to fly the Raven. Additionally, the MTT created two Brigade Raven Master Trainers drawn from within the ranks of the BAE and ADAM Cell.

Establishing the Raven Master Trainers at the Brigade level was critical to the overall success of the Raven program. Drawing from the aviation, airspace and Falcon View experience, the Aviation and ADA Systems Integration Warrant Officers proved to be ideal candidates for Raven Master Trainers. The Raven Master Trainers had three specified tasks and responsibilities: 1) maintain the Brigades Raven Safety, Standardization and Air Training Program (ATP), 2) ensure unit Raven Operators comply with Army, Division, Brigade and unit level rules and regulations, 3) monitor and ensure unit members meet minimums and conduct recertification of as required.

Loosely modeled after the Aviation Brigade’s ATP, the next stage and way ahead for 2HBCT’s Raven program was to establish Battalion level Raven Master Trainers able to manage their own ATP. The Brigade Raven Master Trainers will relinquish the ATP responsibility to the battalions and maintain an “advise and assist” role for the subordinate battalions Master Trainers and provide oversight of the Brigades Raven Safety and Standardization Program. Additionally, 2HBCT will incorporate Raven training in all available home station training to maintain operator currency and proficiency.

In summary, the Raven SUAV is an invaluable combat tested and proven asset to small unit combat operations. Alone it is a relatively simple tool, but coupled with an efficient parts distribution systems, a safety and standardization program, and organic experienced subject matter experts, the Raven is an effective counter measure to various enemy activities. In 2HBCT, the Ravne is now a critical and permanent asset in the battalion and squadron tactics, techniques and procedures. The Raven is a modern RMA in its infancy, which will continue to mature and pay dividends in saved lives with time, technology, and training.

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[1] Operational Environment (OE) – A composite of the conditions, circumstances, and influences which affect the employment of military forces and bear on the decisions of the unit commander. (FM 101-5-1)

[2] Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield (IBP) is the systematic, continuous process of analyzing the threat and environment in a specific geographic area.  IPB products support the commander and staff and are essential to estimates, targeting, and decision-making. (FM 5-0)

[3] A named area of interest (NAI) is a geographical area where information that will satisfy a specific information requirement can be collected (FM 3-90).  NAIs are usually selected to capture indications of enemy courses of action (COAs), but may also be related to battlefield and environment conditions. (FM 5-0)

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from Iraq after a year-long deployment with the 2/3 Spartan Brigade in Mosul
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