Marines in Afghanistan also
have requested an armed UAS,
which would enable them to
quickly attack an enemy spotted
by the air vehicle.
“We contracted with the Army
at the Redstone Arsenal [in
Alabama] for a proof of concept,
where they’re going to weaponize a
single Shadow so we can evaluate
it,” Shand said.
The Army tests will allow the
Corps to see how well the weapon
system works and determine if
there is a tactical use for it, he said.
Shadow already has a laser designator to direct weapons from an
armed helicopter or fixed-wing aircraft.
The RQ- 7 is classified as the
Marine Corps Tactical UAS, a nominal Group 4 air vehicle, Shand
But the Corps’ UAS Road Map
calls for obtaining a larger Group 4
or Group 5 air vehicle “sometime
in the future, as capabilities
mature,” he said. The target date
for fielding is 2024.
The road map also calls for
acquiring a cargo-carrying UAS, a
role that has been filled for more
than a year in Afghanistan by the
K-MAX, a commercial manned helicopter by Kaman
Aerospace, Bloomfield, Conn., that was developed into
an unmanned system by Lockheed Martin.
The two K-MAXs operated by contractors have delivered nearly 2 million pounds of supplies to remote operating bases, reducing the number of manned supply
trucks running the risk of IEDs on the roads.
K-MAX “has been very successful, it does what we
want it to do,” Shand said.
While Marine officials are assessing what is the best
system for that role, the K-MAX contract has been
extended through the end of the Afghan mission.
Because the UAS systems were being deployed so
rapidly to meet the requirements in Iraq and
Afghanistan, the Marines were training operators “as
necessary” with contractors’ support, Shand said.
They now are “transitioning to training and logistics
facilities that will provide training to the units, as
required, and also provide sustainability for the systems,”
he said. There will be six U.S.-based facilities where units
can send Marines for predeployment training.
The Marines also are developing
military operational specialties
(MOSs) for UAS enlisted operators
and officers who serve as mission
commanders for the larger drones,
“We’re growing that community
from the ground up. But as we
grow it, we’re still transitioning
people from other MOSs,” including enlisted air traffic controllers
and pilots and naval flight officers,
The Marines also are employing
a variety of unmanned ground systems (UGS) in Afghanistan, where
they have gained strong support
from ground units and EOD teams,
particularly for their ability to find
and neutralize IEDs without
The most common Marine UGS
is the SUGV 310, which the
Marines call the Devil Pup. It has a
manipulator arm, cameras, video
relay capability and is operated by
a wearable control unit. Although
it can be carried in a backpack,
EOD personnel note that its 32
pounds becomes quite a load on a
long foot patrol. It is made by
iRobot, Bedford, Mass.
Marine EOD and combat engineers also employ a variety of medium-size robots in
the PackBot family, which weigh about 50 pounds,
and Talons, which weigh about 150 pounds, and
provide stronger manipulator arms and more capable
The PackBots are produced by iRobot and the
Talons by QinetiQ and its Foster-Miller subsidiary.
Like all of the air vehicles, the Marines obtain their
ground robots through joint programs, which reduces
acquisition and support costs.
The joint EOD process also is developing the
Advanced EOD Robotics System, which is expected to
provide three levels of remotely operated EOD systems, starting in increment one with the smallest system in 2015. Larger robots in increments two and three
will follow at about two-year intervals, a senior Marine
EOD officer said.
Some Marine infantry units also may have access to
“mini UGSs,” which can weigh less than 2 pounds and
can be thrown through a window to scout a building’s
interior or run through other confined spaces. ■
U.S. MARINE CORPS
Marine Explosive Ordinance Disposal
(EOD) technicians and combat engineers employ a variety of medium-sized robots to find and neutralize
improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
A PackBot Mark II is shown here
being maneuvered by EOD technicians with Initial Response Force “A,”
React Company, Chemical Biological
Incident Response Force, toward an
IED during a certification exercise in
June 2011 in Lorton, Va.