AeroVironment has been awarded a firm fixed-price contract for the delivery of its family of digital RQ-20A Puma All Environment (AE) Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (SUAS) to the US Army.

The air vehicles delivered under the $20.4m contract will be used to provide intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities for security, route clearance operations and overall battle space awareness to the deployed US forces in Afghanistan.

Tom Herring, AeroVironment senior vice president and Unmanned Aircraft Systems general manager, said the Puma AE system provides critical force protection and force multiplication capabilities to the US military, at a fraction of the cost of larger manned and unmanned aircraft systems.

"Our small unmanned systems are ideal as they give small tactical units eye in the sky surveillance and intelligence over a broad area," Herring added.

Deliveries under the contract are scheduled to take place by the end of May 2012.

Weighing 13lb, the Puma AE is a third-generation, man-portable and hand-launched SUAS, designed primarily to execute intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance (ISTAR) missions.

Flying at a maximum altitude of 500ft, the UAV captures high-resolution imagery or critical videos of the battlefield using an integrated electro-optical and infrared gimballed video camera and transmits it to a ground control station (GCS) through a line of sight data link.

Each Puma system comprises three air vehicles and two ground control systems and can fly at a maximum speed of 83km/h and stay airborne for a maximum of two hours using a rechargeable battery.

The SUAS can also be configured to perform a range of operations, including battle damage assessment, maritime intervention operations, visit board search seizure, search and rescue, port and coastal patrolling and drug interdiction missions.

Puma AE has also been ordered by the US Air Force (USAF) and the US Marine Corps (USMC) under separate $2.4m and $5.5m contracts, respectively.