As the expeditionary company of some 300 Marines scattered to patrol the desert village, the MQ- 9 Reaper circled high, unseen, above
Deployed to help locals, the Marines with Kilo
Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment (3/5
Marines), were on the lookout for any trouble from a
paramilitary group with uncertain loyalties in control
of the foreign town near a downed U.N. helicopter. The
Marines, some riding in offroad vehicles but equipped
with some of the latest high-tech devices, faced threats
of ambush attacks, snipers and roadside bombs as they
operated from patrol bases.
The Reaper, though, gave the infantry company —
participating in a Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory
experiment at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat
Center (MCAGCC) in Twentynine Palms, Calif. —
something that no Marine on the ground could provide: Deep eyes and ears in the sky, out of sight, out of
range and unseen by potential opposing forces.
The remotely piloted aircraft
flew over the Mojave Desert providing real-time information and
high-definition imagery to company and platoon leaders. They
all shared data via hand-held tablets and computers equipped with
newer technologies being analyzed
by the laboratory.
The unmanned aerial system
(UAS) joined in the laboratory’s
Marine Air-Ground Task Force
Integration Experiment (MIX) exercise, held July 26 to Aug. 6 at the
MCAGCC training center. Its participation was significant for the
Marine Corps, which has none of
the larger Group 5 or Group 4 UASs.
The service’s smaller, but capable,
Group 3 drone is the RQ-7B Shadow,
The Reaper, outfitted with a pod carrying radios and
ANW2, or area network wideband waveform, became an
airborne communications platform that gave the platoon
sergeants and other small-unit leaders much greater situational awareness, or “Sit A,” than they usually have.
That was not all. For several missions over the course
of a week, the MQ- 9 was equipped with a sensors suite,
as well as laser-guided Hellfire missiles and a GBU- 12
Paveway II laser-guided bomb. Those “smart” munitions
gave the Marines on the ground and their embedded
tactical controllers close-air support, if needed, right at
their fingers. For higher commanders, it meant not having to put a pilot and aircrew in harm’s way.
Network in the Sky
Marine Corps drawn to MQ- 9 Reaper’s success
By GIDGET FUENTES, Special Correspondent
A Reaper for Marines?
Marines, from the commandant down to the infantry squad
leader, are hot about getting access to — if not hands on —
strategic and larger Group 5 unmanned aerial systems like the
MQ- 9 Reaper.
n Such high-altitude, long-loiter, heavy-payload drones can provide a network in the sky and, with armament and sensors, support ground forces with a find-fix-and-finish capability the Marines
want in their inventory.
n Currently, the Air Force maintains the Reaper, but its inventory
of 90-plus is in high demand.
n Top Marine Corps leaders want to know if something like the
Reaper can be made to work from short runways like the C-130
or as a vertical-takeoff asset aboard ships.