Photo Information

Marines with 3rd Low Altitude Air Defense Battalion fire an FIM-92A stinger missile at an unmanned aerial target during training at San Clemente Island, July 28. The battalion only trains with the weapons system once a year. (Official U.S. Marine Corp photo by Cpl. Christopher O'Quin)(Released)

Photo by Cpl. Christopher O'Quin

3rd LAAD ‘stings’ aerial targets from sky

28 Jul 2009 | Cpl. Christopher O'Quin

A Marine armed with an FIM-92A Stinger Weapon System has one shot to take out an aircraft flying in the distance. The Marine gets the aircraft in his sights, launches a missile and within seconds it destroys the target. 

Marines with 3rd Low Altitude Air Defense Battalion, Marine Air Control Group 38, trained with the missile weapon system against remote-controlled aircraft to complete required qualifications here, July 28.

The week-long fire-exercise training familiarized the Marines with the weapons systems they use when protecting installations, forward operating bases and convoys. The battalion used crew-served weapons to provide security and low altitude aerial defense for 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing and other I Marine Expeditionary Force units.

Although Marines have not come under enemy air attack since the battle of Okinawa, the air threat to the MAGTF is changing and becoming easier to employ and harder to detect, explained Lt. Col. Mike C. Cancellier, commanding officer of 3rd LAAD Bn. At least 32 countries produce more than 250 unmanned aircraft and 25 countries possess cruise missiles with a range greater than 90 miles. Unmanned aircraft and cruise missiles enable adversaries to attack even if coalition forces have air superiority.  In the past few years, The U.S. has seen an increase in the use of these air threats by non-state actors; such as Hezbollah in 2006 in the war against the Israeli’s. 

“Because of the U.S. dominance in air-to-air combat, this trend of asymmetric air attacks using cruise missiles and unmanned aircraft will continue and possibly increase in the future,” said Cancellier. “Second and 3rd LAAD Battalions are the only two ground units remaining in the Marine Corps capable of countering the threats from cruise missiles and unmanned aircraft.”

The Stinger has a passive infrared seeker system to improve Marines’ chances of a direct hit. The seeker enables the missile to lock on to heat emitted by airborne targets. It requires no guidance from the shooter once they have fired the weapon. The Marines shot their missiles at low-cost unmanned aerial targets 1/5 the size of a real aircraft to simulate enemies. The target used a catalytic converter to generate temperatures higher than 800 degrees - heat needed for the Marine to obtain an adequate weapons lock.

“It’s a fire and forget weapon,” said Sgt. Joshua J. Stepp, the firing pit noncommissioned officer with the battalion. “We can shoot it and then fire another right after with no reloading.”

They fired 40 missiles at aerial targets, making 34 direct hits, two simulated kills and four misses throughout their shoot. The missiles that missed crashed into the ocean. The battalion trains with the missiles once a year, making this shoot a rare occasion.

“It was very exciting training and it was an awesome feeling to shoot and score a direct hit,” said Lance Cpl. Ryan S. Kendall, a gunner and team leader with the battalion. “It’s pretty easy to shoot because it’s relatively light and there’s almost no kick to it.”

After using all of their missiles, the Marines trained with their crew-served weapons, two M2 .50 caliber and two M240B machine guns mounted on humvees. Nine-thousand rounds later, the Marines had destroyed eight aerial targets.

The battalion spent the rest of the week performing infantry tactics and convoy operations to complete their exercise. When unfriendly aircraft threaten U.S. forces, the Marines of 3rd LAAD Bn. have the training to make the enemy feel the sting of their arsenal.