By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class D. C. Ortega, USS Gonzalez Public Affairs
ATLANTIC OCEAN (NNS) -- The guided-missile destroyer USS Gonzalez (DDG 66) conducted testing of an unmanned aircraft system during a Composite Unit Training Exercise (COMPTUEX).
RQ-20A Puma (Block II) is the second iteration of the all-environment unmanned aircraft models and is used in situations with a greater need for maneuverability, such as maritime interdiction and counter-piracy operations.
The all-environment term comes from its ability to withstand temperatures ranging from -20 to 120 degrees Fahrenheit, an inch of rain per hour, and wind speeds of 25 knots. Also it is fully operational day or night. Its smart batteries and waterproof body allow for many types of missions all over the world.
"When I first checked aboard USS Gonzalez I wasn't expecting to get the opportunity to run the PUMA project, but after working with the equipment and people, I realized its capabilities are innovative and resourceful," said Ensign N. Sanchez. "It augments what we are already capable of doing. It really aligns with the Chief of Naval Operation's mandate to 'operate forward and be ready'."
Nine of the 12 PUMA team members are enlisted PUMA operators. Each was hand-picked as the best in their field by the command and attended a two-week course in Camp Lejeune, NC.
"We spent countless hours doing classroom and field training. It was a lot to learn but we all walked away really confident in our abilities to operate PUMA successfully and help carry out the Navy's mission," said Operations Specialist 2nd Class E. Luck, the first female PUMA pilot.
A two-person team controls PUMA locally; it can also be remotely controlled inside the skin of the ship.
At the end of operations it can land on the ship's deck in a net or in the ocean with follow-on retrieval by rigid-hull inflatable boat. In case of an inability to recover, no information can be taken as all information is transmitted to and kept within the receiving ship.
PUMA weighs 13.5 pounds with a wingspan of just over nine feet and has an operating altitude of 500 feet or higher in order to maneuver above terrain.
"It has been exciting to field this technology in a robust environment such as the Composite Training Unit Exercise," said Cmdr. Stefan Walch, commanding officer. "We have learned a lot of lessons that will prepare us for deployed PUMA operations on destroyers."
PUMA II brings advancement in surveillance technology to the Navy to help ensure the maritime safety of our allies.
Gonzalez is underway participating in their Composite Training Unit Exercise with the Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group, composed of Carrier Strike Groups 8, Destroyer Squadron 28, Carrier Air Wing 7, guided missile cruiser USS Anzio (CG 68) and guided missile destroyers USS Bulkeley (DDG 84), USS Gravely (DDG 107) and USS Ramage (DDG 61).