FORWARD OPERATING BASE DWYER, Afghanistan --
As a shockwave rumbled across the flight line here Sept. 22, it was met with an even larger roar of cheering from the Marines with Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron 1, Marine Air Control Group 38, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward).
This shockwave was the after effect of a 500-pound bomb dropped on a test target approximately 10 miles from the flight line; it took 58 seconds to reach the Marines. This was the first successful ordinance drop from a fixed-wing aircraft that was laser-guided onto its target from the RQ-7B “Shadow.”
“This is the first time a Marine [unmanned aerial system] has laser-designated for a fixed-wing aircraft. It was in a training environment, so this sets us up to do this for real in a combat situation,” said Capt. Philip Raymond, the mission commander of the flight with VMU-1. “It feels good to be able to utilize Marine UAS further in combat besides just reconnaissance, but also target acquisition and marking.”
The Shadow is primarily used as eyes in the sky for troops on the ground. It can identify hazards, guide troops to safety and trace enemy locations. The exercise proved the Shadow is capable of much more than just observation.
A similar training exercise was held Aug. 29, while VMU-1 successfully laser-designated AGM-114 Hellfire missiles onto a target from a rotary-wing aircraft. With the knowledge and confidence to laser-guide ordinance to its target with lethal precision, the Shadow may not only save lives on the ground, but provide substantial protection for other aircraft.
“We possibly can shorten the time of [aircraft] exposure to fire ordinance and remain on target,” said Master Sgt. Rembert Ward, operations staff non-commissioned officer in charge, VMU-1. “[The Shadow] is an unmanned platform. I would much rather take the acceptable risk of having one of our UAVs shot down vice one of our airborne platforms with our Marines and aviators in it.”
The Shadow’s top priority remains reconnaissance and surveillance, but due to the efforts of VMU-1 (Fwd), the Shadow has opened a new door and put another ace up the Marine Corps’ sleeve.