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A RQ-7B "Shadow 200 beloning to Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron 1, sits on top of its launcher before a training flight aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, July 27. The launcher ejects the unmanned aircraft at speeds exceeding 20 mph to get the 375-pound aircraft airborne. (Official U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Christopher O'Quin)(Released)

Photo by Cpl. Christopher O'Quin

‘Launch em!’ VMU-1 keeps eyes on training, skies

27 Jul 2009 | Cpl. Christopher O'Quin

In today’s world of high-speed data gathering, satellites can provide up-to-date information to Marines all over the world. When Marines need intelligence and no satellites are available, the Corps has another tool to obtain information from the sky using unmanned aerial vehicles.

A 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing squadron from Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms spent more than a week honing the skills that provide battlefield awareness to the Marines here.

A detachment of Marines from Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron 1 completed a training evolution which involved working with other units in the region, from July 21 through July 29.

The squadron, known as “Watchdog,” supported units such as: 4th Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion; 3rd Battalion, 24th Marine Regiment; 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit and squadrons from Marine Aircraft Group 39.

Watchdog used UAV’s to coordinate convoy overwatch and locate targets for aircraft. A 70-Marine team of maintainers, avionics technicians, operators and other personnel got the UAV’s airborne twice each day.

“Our UAV’s are very reliable and we hardly have to perform extensive maintenance,” said Sgt. Andrew D. Aittama, an avionics technician with the squadron. “We’ve mainly been cross-training with the maintainers because it’s so new.”

The squadron operates the RQ-7B Shadow 200, to gather intelligence on the battlefield from thousands of feet in the sky.

“With the UAV’s we can identify targets, their location and provide a battle damage assessment,” said Lt. Col. Richard E. Jordan, the commanding officer of VMU-1. “The key benefit to being at Pendleton is we are designed to support the Marine Air-Ground Task Force and it allowed us to support the battalions who don’t normally train with us. It also allowed us to integrate with the Marine light attack helicopter squadrons here.”

While helicopters flew, the squadron provided intelligence for the pilots and aided them in acquiring targets. The Marines on the ground learned to coordinate intelligence gathering and practiced communicating with Watchdog.

A UAV launcher ejects the 375-pound aircraft faster than 20 mph. The aircraft’s engine can send it to an altitude of 15,000 feet, and keep it airborne for nearly seven hours.

“We use our ground control station to operate the camera and the UAV,” said Cpl. Brian L. Krem, a UAV operator with the squadron. “We can also use a portable ground control station to go out and control the UAV from a humvee instead of moving an entire forward operating base. This boosts our control range.”

An electo-optical infrared camera sensor gives operators a real-time view of the battlefield. With the optics, the operators can take pictures and video of subjects in thermal, infrared and electro-optical views.

“It’s a different experience watching the enemy from the sky,” said Sgt. Glen Matsumura, a UAV operator with Watchdog. “I remember observing a raid three years ago. Some of the insurgents tried to sneak out the back of a house. I saw this and told the Marines on the ground, who then intercepted those escaping. It feels good when you know you’ve contributed something to the mission.”

The squadron intends to continue training in upcoming months as they prepare and train other units for future deployments. When the Marines on the ground need to know who and where the enemy is, the Watchdogs can use their eyes in the sky to gather battlefield intelligence to help accomplish the mission one picture at a time.

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3rd Marine Aircraft Wing