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Eyes in Sky Give Advance Notice to Ground Troops

If knowledge is power, than gathering information about enemy forces is crucial. Observing the movement or posture of the enemy greatly aids in battle planning.


III Marine Expeditionary Force Public Affairs RSS
Story by Sgt. Rodolfo Toro
Date: 04.09.2010
Posted: 04.11.2010 08:09

Unmanned aerial vehicles are one tool that continues to offer innovative ways to provide military commanders on the ground with near-real-time imagery of areas of interest since developers spearheaded the program in the early- to mid-20th century.

According to Fleet Marine Force Manual 3-22-1 UAV Company Operations, "A UAV is a powered, aerial vehicle that does not carry a human operator, uses aerodynamic forces to provide vehicle lift, can fly autonomously or be piloted remotely, can be expendable or recoverable and can carry a lethal or nonlethal payload."

The success of UAVs stems from its wide range of useful and versatile capabilities.

Unmanned aerial vehicles can perform both reconnaissance and combat missions.

According to the manual, "In addition to aerial reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition and airborne assaults, UAVs can also assist in search and rescue and tactical recovery of aircraft and personnel operations and provide information to assist adjusting indirect fire weapons," such as mortar and artillery systems.

The vehicles are maintained by unmanned aerial vehicle squadrons called VMUs. Their mission is to provide unmanned aerial reconnaissance support to all Marine Expeditionary Forces units. The squadrons are comprised of several sections that maintain, operate and transport UAVs.

Flying at altitudes above enemy-controlled territory, away from U.S. troops, UAVs are able to relay vital information about enemy targets and troop activity without risking the lives of pilots.

"The fact we are not pushing personnel through forward lines for intelligence takes the risks away from the individual Marines themselves," said Gunnery Sgt. Craig Harris, operations chief for Weapons Company, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division, III Marine Expeditionary Force.

The Marines of 3rd Bn., 3rd Marines, recently completed exercise Lava Viper in Hawaii using the RQ-7B "Shadow" 200, an unmanned aerial vehicle currently used by the Marine Corps and U.S. Army for aerial reconnaissance.

The intent behind the exercise was to introduce and familiarize non-aviation Marine Corps units with UAV operations and capabilities, said Capt. Rich Rybolt, mission commander and Detachment A officer in charge, Marine VMU-1, Marine Air Control Group 38, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, I MEF.

The Marines of 3rd Bn. are scheduled to deploy to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

Understanding their on-hand capabilities will greatly enhance their combat effectiveness, according to Harris.

"UAVs are a huge plus," he said. "It gave us an awesome birds-eye view before sending troops through areas of interest. It gave us almost exactly everything we needed to know before going into hostile areas," Harris explained.

"The great range of approximately 70 miles proved to be helpful in gaining knowledge quickly, otherwise it could take days if you were to push out personnel," he added.

The UAVs seemed to be an all-around success during the exercise.

UAVs continue to play an integral role in military operations, according to Gunnery Sgt. Jimmy Shields, the weather chief for Marine Wing Support Squadron 171, Marine Wing Support Group 17, 1st MAW, III MEF.

Shields said he was impressed with the benefits UAVs provide troops on the ground. He likened it to having a forward observer constantly looking ahead.

"It was the first time a UAV was used in that type of training environment," he said, referring to its integrated use with infantrymen and artillery assets during the exercise.

UAVs such as the "Shadow" offer peacetime applications as well.

According to the manual "During military operations other than war, a UAV provides the Marine Air Ground Task Force with useful information about an area of operations and forewarns of any emerging threats in the vicinity by loitering overhead and providing real-time intelligence."

The relatively fast setup for take-off and landing capability of UAVs and their different types adds to their tactical appeal.

Chief Warrant Officer 3 Damon Hines said the MWSS-171 heavy equipment officer who oversaw construction of a UAV landing strip, "An airstrip for a UAV can basically be built almost anywhere, assuming you have the materials to meet the specified requirements."

Hines explained that different types of UAVs require different airstrip lengths and ground composition densities.
UAV sizes range from the average hobbyist planes to full-size jets.

The technology enabling these remotely-piloted vehicles to successfully carry out military operations has progressed since its inception.

Cpl. Mathew Mantooth, an intelligence analyst with 3rd Bn., said UAV platforms are becoming more diversified and are only limited by current technology and human imagination.