Marine Unmanned Aviation: A Warfighter’s Perspective

Contributor:  Christopher Dauer
Posted:  03/27/2012  12:00:00 AM EDT
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An IDGA Q&A with LtCol Timothy G. Burton, USMC

Commanding Officer, VMU-3 Phantoms (Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron 3)

IDGA: First, could you provide an overview of the Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron?

RB: The Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron is composed of three detachments. Each of these detachments is independently deployable. We’re in the process of growing nine additional detachments as well. The original detachment we have right now is a system apiece for each detachment of the RQ-7 Bravo Shadow. That Shadow system comprises 4 air vehicles, 2 ground control stations, and a portable ground control station. We are growing with 9 more detachments over the next 3 years. RQ-21’s Integrators, and there will be 4 of those birds in each of those 9 dets.  So they’ll be a lot of growth over the next couple years as we go from roughly 200 individuals Marines out to about 285.

IDGA: What is the driving force behind the increase over the next few years?

RB: Well, there’s an insatiable appetite for full-motion video, and more importantly for coordinated full-motion video, where the ground forces are able to communicate more directly with those people who are providing that full-motion video out in the fleet. So it’s a growing need, and people are finding how effective and relevant it is to all forms of tactical warfare to have that full-motion view available and coordinate it with the ground units that are out there.

IDGA: Is this something that’s also expanded geographically?

RB: Well, we are going to be moving—my squadron in particular will be moving out to Hawaii to provide some provide some full-motion video capability to First Marine Air Wing in 2014. I would say just the general desire and requirement for full-motion video has come to complete fruition and everyone understands that there’s a significant shortage of it. I guess it would be more to say we’re trying to fill in the requirement gaps because everyone has pretty much come on board deciding that anytime we’re out engaged in combat operations we need to have full-motion video available on overhead for the decision-makers.

IDGA: Can you provide an operational summary of the squadron’s activity in OEF?

RB: Sure. In OEF we operated the RQ7- Bravo out of two separate locations and flew over 6,000 hours over a seven-month period in those two locations at Helmand Province, one being at Camp Dwyer and the other being at Camp Leatherneck. We also executed the ScanEagle contract, provided mission commanders for support to RC Southwest from four separate locations as well. There we flew over 20,000 hours. All told over 26,000 hours of full motion video support the squadron provided over seven months.

During the conference I’ll be discussing some specific vignettes to show how well we were integrated with the ground forces, and also layout a roadmap to the future to sort of help us, to show us what we need to do to become even more effective.

I’ll talk specifically about the convoy support that we did with the RQ7- Bravo it has a com relay package and what made it most effective was that we were able to talk with the convoy commanders who were out there and steer them around IEDs, or if they were engaged by the enemy or found themselves in ambushes, we could locate the enemy when they couldn’t see them. We could help them fix those targets by working with the JTECHs that were embedded in the convoy we could bring fire to bear and bring them up.

IDGA: What other changes do you foresee?

RB: Over the next year the big thing that’s going to come on line, the next big set of capabilities that’s coming to fruition is our weaponization, and that’s really going to change the game. And we’re going to have a lot of growth. I think the requirements once we’re weaponized are going to go up, including our requirements to integrate and communicate, they’ll be solidified as well.

Let me just say one last thing. I think after listening to my presentation, what I want the participants to appreciate is not just that we get the full motion video out to the user, but also the person who’s operating the full-motion video has the ability to communicate and talk to with the end user as well as with the other aviation assets that are out there, in order to coordinate fires and also just to ensure that the correct ID is maintained in the fight that we’re currently in.

 LtCol Timothy G. Burton will be speaking at IDGA’s 8th Annual UAV Summit, to be held from April 23-25, 2012 in Washington DC. For more information on the event, visit or call 1-800-882-8684.

Christopher Dauer Contributor:   Christopher Dauer

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