NAVAL SUPPORT ACTIVITY, Bahrain (NNS) -- High over head, rain or shine, an elusive, yet sophisticated surveillance equipment flies in areas that are difficult to see with the naked eye.
This system is called Puma AE (Pointer Upgraded Mission Ability - All Environment) and the U.S. Navy is currently testing it aboard ships in the U.S. 5th Fleet Area of Responsibility.
A two-person team, consisting of an operation and mission controller, collaborates to operate a system to act as an "eye in the sky." The mission control person tells the operator where to zoom in and zoom out and where to fly and land the craft.
"The Puma AE is all about the ability to operate in any environment around the world," said Intelligence Specialist 1st Class Remick Bailey. "It's meant to be utilitized by small unit commands, especially Special Operational commands due to areas these commands operate in such as small waterways and rivers."
The Puma AE unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) is a hand-launched high wing monoplane with an electrically driven pusher propeller with has a built-in infrared camera and illuminator in one modular system.
The wingspan alone is 110" and weighs 18 pounds and capable of operating in all environments and temperatures ranging from -20 degrees to 120 degrees Fahrenheit and a quarter inch of rain per hour.
Quartermaster 2nd Class Matthew Rodriguez and Master-at-Arms 2nd Class Daniel Meehan, assigned to Riverine Squadron 3 based in Yorktown, Va., had recently completed successful launches with Puma AE on larger naval ships at sea for the first time in an operational capacity.
"We were out here to test the Puma AE to see if it would be good for shipboard use," said Rodriguez. "Puma AE can be used for reconnaissance and visit, board, search and seizure and search (VBSS) and rescue missions. It is very helpful for destroyers and patrol coastal ships."
"While on the patrol coastal ship, we landed the Puma AE as close to the ship as possible and sent a rigid-hulled inflatable boat (RHIB) to recover it," said Rodriguez.
While many may think that reconnaissance information is stored on Puma AE, it is actually stored on the system's laptop.
Meehan said that once the mission is completed, Puma AE is recovered by either landing on the ship's flight deck or in the water. Puma AE also has the ability to float for multiple hours before sinking.
"This gives us time to get to the craft if it lands far away," said Meehan. "If the Puma AE is recovered by the wrong hands, they can only recover GPS information."
As an all environment reconnaissance system, the Puma AE is technical equipment that has the ability to be used for a variety of missions. Puma AE may become a popular safety tool in the future for land and shipboard operations due to its ability to be used for certain missions in lieu of people.
In the meantime, the Navy continues its testing of Puma AE, high overhead, rain or shine.
Commander, Task Unit 56.7.3 is attached to Commander, Task Force (CTF) 56. CTF 56 conducts maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in the U.S. 5th Fleet Area of Responsibility.