AL ASAD, Iraq --
Marines traversing inner cities searching for insurgents no longer have to pop corners or stealthily peek above ridge lines during foot patrols while hoping there is no ambush ahead.
With help from unmanned aerial vehicles patrolling high in the sky, Marines can be alerted to enemies or improvised explosive devices before it is too late.
The Marine Corps recently upgraded from the aged “Pioneer” UAV to the new “Shadow” system. Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron 1 gathered intelligence and conducted surveillance during the Shadow’s maiden flight, Oct. 6. The squadron also replaced VMU-2 during a change of command ceremony Oct. 10.
The primary mission of the UAV is to gather information, provide surveillance and conduct reconnaissance. They are employed to support troops-in-contact operations, scan routes searching for IEDs or ambushes and provide overwatch during combat.
The Shadow is a brand new system compared to the Pioneer, which has been in use since the 1980s and is utilized by other country’s militaries. The Shadow is a smaller, but overall more efficient aircraft that requires less manpower than its predecessor.
“The plane is smaller, more fuel efficient, quieter, requires much less maintenance and doesn’t require as many operators,” said Sgt. Charles Cook, a VMU-2 internal operator. “The new system took out the need for an external pilot.”
The camera is a lot easier to control on the Shadow system, admitted Cpl. Glenn Matsumara, an internal operator with VMU-1. The camera is steadier, allowing greater control of what you can do with the picture.
The transition to the Shadow UAV system required VMU-1 to complete a 12-week training cycle before their current deployment. The transition at the unit’s deployed operating center was almost seamless, requiring a few rerouted wires and exchanging Pioneer ground control systems with Shadow units, according to Lt. Col. Geoffery Field, VMU-1 commanding officer.
The squadron has already had success with their early operations of the aircraft providing information and video for ground commanders.
“We can do in three missions a day what Pioneer did with four,” said Field. “My Marines have already picked up and are running with the ball. Corporals, lance corporals and sergeants are running the show here, that’s the beauty of this. The Marines love this system.”
While the Marines of VMU-1 were excited to arrive in theater and employ new battlefield technology, the Marines of VMU-2 realized and accepted the need to switch from the aged Pioneer.
“Right now there is an insatiable appetite for (information, surveillance and reconnaissance) access,” said Lt. Col. Mark Nelson, VMU-2 commanding officer. “Commanders from the (Air Combat Element) to (Multi National Force-West) always want more, which is why we’re shifting to the Shadow because we can provide more ISR with less manpower.”
The squadron demonstrated their determination and flew the Pioneer like it was going out of style during their seven month deployment, flying 2,000 ISR sorties providing commanders throughout the theatre with essential information.
“We set and broke the record for Pioneer flight ops three separate times during this deployment,” said Nelson. “We never missed a sortie, which speaks volumes.”
During VMU-2s upcoming predeployment training cycle, they will spend between 12 and 16 weeks learning the new Shadow system to prepare for their next rotation to Iraq.