MARINE CORPS AIR STATION CHERRY POINT, N.C. (March 15, 2012) --
Through day and night aerial reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition, the Marines of Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron 2 are the eyes of the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing.
Keeping their sights sharp, the squadron performed a series of flight operations with its RQ-7B Shadow, an unmanned aerial vehicle with a live video feed camera, here March 7 through March 15.
The aircraft is fairly simple to operate, said Sgt. Michael L. Greenway, a maintainer for VMU-2. It takes off by launching from a nitrogen-powered hydraulic catapult and is driven by a single propeller with enough fuel for six hours of flight time. In landing, a hook on the aircraft catches a horizontally spanned rope.
While in the air, controlled at the hands of a keyboard and mouse, the Shadow can directly support troops on the ground.
“Depending on our tasking derived from the ground combat element, we will support either target acquisition or find targets ourselves,” said Gunnery Sgt. Joseph M. Lapi, a Shadow operator for VMU-2. “We can also support reconnaissance and surveillance efforts such as raid operations or route reconnaissance in support of ground movements along roadways, airborne assaults or any other landing zone preparation activities.”
What makes the Shadow so effective is its ability to distribute video in nearly real time to anyone that needs to see it, said Lapi. Intelligence Marines on the ground can watch the video feed to help the operators recognize what they see, and Marines on the front line can even see what the Shadow sees.
“The Shadow system VMU-2 operates comes equipped with one remote video terminal, which allows us to distribute video to a computer system in the hands of a Marine on the ground,” said Lapi. “They can see our video as the situation is happening. If a Marine unit is experiencing troops in contact, they could orient to where the enemy fire is coming from, potentially where the enemy is and react to it accordingly.”
With manned aircraft, a pilot scans the ground with their eyes or records imagery with a camera and reports back to base. After arriving, it is handed to an intelligence Marine who watches it to determine if it contains anything important, before passing it on accordingly.
The Shadow’s capability of rapid data distribution makes it a valuable asset, said Lapi, and it can even designate targets for both conventional and precision munitions.
According to Cpl. Adam R. Tailor, a Shadow operator for VMU-2, he can get grid coordinates for both air and artillery strikes. Also, the on-board laser can guide a smart bomb onto a target, said Tailor.
Because it’s such a different aircraft, it requires a lot of attention to detail, said Tailor.
“I have to keep a visual scan of all my reports. It’s very easy to get distracted because there are a lot of people talking on headsets and a lot of stuff going on,” he said. “It’s very important for the person controlling the bird to pay attention to exactly what the bird is doing.”