The skies over Ukraine have become a fierce battleground, but a small, unexpected player is making a significant impact. The RQ-20 Puma drone, a hand-launched marvel from the US, arrived quietly in February 2023 as part of a military aid package and has since become a crucial eye in the storm for Ukrainian forces.

This seemingly unassuming drone’s arrival marks a turning point in the conflict, showcasing the growing importance of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in modern warfare.

RQ-20 Puma: From Humble Beginnings to Battlefield Star

Developed in 2008 by AeroVironment, the RQ-20 Puma wasn’t designed for the brutal realities of a large-scale war.

Originally intended for US Special Operations, this lightweight (just 15 pounds or 7 kilograms for the Puma 3 AE variant) electric-powered UAV thrives on its portability and ease of use.

Soldiers can launch it directly from their hands, making it highly mobile for rapid deployment in frontline environments. This ease of use proved to be a key factor when Ukrainian forces, with limited training time compared to their US counterparts, were able to master the drone’s operation in just a month.

(Image source: AeroVironment)

Despite its unassuming size, the Puma packs a powerful punch in the realm of intelligence gathering.

Its high-definition hybrid electro-optical and infrared camera, lauded by Ukrainian operators for its stability and exceptional zoom capabilities, provides real-time imagery day or night.

This keen vision has proven invaluable in the ongoing conflict.