MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. --
An MV-22B Osprey from the Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 161 “Greyhawks” circles the sky above the drop zone. As the signal is given the crew drops their first pay load.
Although there is nothing explosive about them, these flares light the area for the pilots conducting an integrated training exercise aboard Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif., Sept. 23.
Without the flares during low-light situations, CH-53 E Super Stallion crews and pilots would have a frightful experience trying to land.
“Whenever you look at terrain through night vision goggles you lose depth and terrain contrast; a whole field of view is just gone and you’re trying to land,” said Gunnery Sgt. Forrest Bernard, a crew chief with the Greyhawks and a Des Allemands, La., native. “With battlefield illumination, you get back some of that depth perception, more object reflectivity and when you land, the terrain can’t walk away from you.”
Using this kind of illumination technique isn’t just for training scenarios, it’s been battle tested and implemented for different missions including the use of infrared flares for tactical missions where stealth is essential.
“We’ve used battlefield illuminations in Afghanistan for insertions and extractions and to assist Marines on the ground while they get themselves into position to engage the enemy,” said Sgt. Jacob Luksha, a crew chief with the Greyhawks and a Houston native. “We have [infrared] flares that we can use to give our Marines an advantage over the enemy, because they give off light that only our Marines can see using night vision goggles.”
While the aircraft circles the designated area for illumination, the crew readies the flares by setting timers and hooking lanyards to the aircraft. Once the pilot gives the go-ahead to the crew, they push the flares off the ramp as the lanyard is ripped from the casing and starts the timer.
At a certain pre-designated altitude, the flares ignite and shed light over the ground, the Marines or the enemy. This ensures they have enough light to accomplish the mission safely and effectively.
“During our briefings, we may have imagery to pick what we think is the best spot to land in a zone. Sometimes it’s old and I may not be able to really see the zone until I’m in it trying to land,” said Capt. Ben Potter, an Osprey pilot with VMM-161 and a Big Sandy, Texas, native. “Whereas if I have [illumination], I’ll get a two or three second look at the zone. That two or three seconds can mean a lot when you’re coming in to land, which could save the crew and our cargo a great deal of trouble and heartache.”
With tools like this in the Marine Corps’ tool box, Marines will always have a light in the dark to guide them to their mark.