Magazine article National Defense

Marines Refine Tactics for Unmanned Aircraft

Magazine article National Defense

Marines Refine Tactics for Unmanned Aircraft

Article excerpt

The Marine Corps' Dragon Eye is now a veteran of the military's young unmanned aircraft fleet. Lessons from the battlefield are driving the second generation of these machines, including integrating them with ground assets, teaming them in pairs and improving their sensor capabilities.

The Marines also are planning on adding another unmanned aircraft to the inventory. Officials cite a "gap" between long- and short-range vehicles currently employed, said Maj. John Giscard, head of the aviation combat element branch of the Marine Corps' Warfighting Lab. The new craft will be used at the regimental level and will be "fully autonomous from launch to recovery," he said at a recent industry conference on unmanned vehicles.

Even though the Corps is now just "defining the requirements," he did give a sketch of the new craft's capabilities. Initially, engineers would design a land-based system, which would then be converted for launch and recovery at sea. The sensor package would include an infrared targeting system that would allow multiple parties to confirm the location of an object of attention. For fuel, only a diesel-powered system would likely be purchased, he said.

The Dragon Eye is a five-pound, hand-launched aircraft with a 45-inch wingspan, it has flown extensively in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Marines liked the aircraft, but returned to the lab from battle with requirements it lacked.

High on that list, said Capt. Renee Matthews, unmanned aerial vehicle project manager at the Marine Warfighting Lab, is the ability for the camera to zoom in on targets. "Right now the imagery you get is very stable," she said. "But when you zoom, you need to stabilize."

Also necessary was a longer battery life, and an option for recharging the energy source. Analysis from Iraq showed that more training was needed at the command level, and that there was a need for remote data terminals for battalion combat operation centers.

To gain longer ranges and endurance, the Dragon Eye itself may change. In one version, the X-63, the wingspan will lengthen from 43 inches to 63 inches, which would give it greater endurance and better landing accuracy. Directing a landing is especially important when launched from a rooftop, Giscard pointed out.

One idea that comes directly from the urban battles of Iraq is pairing Dragon Eyes over hot spots. …

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