Quads for Squads

U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Ryan Skinner prepares to fly the Mark-2 Instant Eye during the Infantry Platoon Battle Course as part of a Deployment for Training. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Michaela R. Gregory)

Marine Corps Infantry Receive Small Quadcopters

The Marine Corps has started equipping infantry units with small unmanned aircraft systems (SUAS) quadcopters to bring greater situational awareness to troops on the ground.

During last year’s Modern Day Marine expo held in Quantico, Virginia, Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Robert Neller announced his desire to equip every infantry squad with quadcopter—or vertical take-off and lift (VTOL)—SUAS to help them execute missions.

Soon after, the Navy and Marine Corps Small Tactical Unmanned Aircraft Systems Program Office acted on the urgent needs request and began fulfilling the order last spring, completing phase one.

“The infantry battalion needs small UAS because it makes the most dangerous weapon—a Marine and his rifle—that much more lethal,” said 1st Lt. Joseph Paoletta, SUAS program manager 2nd Bn., 7th Marines. “The advent of widespread use of both commercial off-the-shelf and military-grade UAS by our adversaries necessitates we maintain the same level of capability.”

Phase one included the initial procurement and delivery of infantry battalion kits containing InstantEye Nano-VTOLs, PD-100 Black Hornet micro-VTOLs, commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) systems and communications-relay payloads. The second phase will begin this fall adding a slightly larger VTOL system to the kits. Weighing 0.6 ounces to just more than 5 pounds, the quadcopters provide real-time intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) situational awareness.

U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Ryan Skinner, flies the Mark-2 Instant Eye during the Infantry Platoon Battle Course as part of a Deployment for Training. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Michaela R. Gregory)

Paoletta said 2nd Bn. was already using fixed-wing ISR UAS in support of intelligence collection, but their use was largely relegated to the battalion level.

“The ease of use and the ability to have an InstantEye or PD-100 in the air in less than two minutes immediately improved the small-unit capabilities to provide organic collection and force protection in an expeditionary manner,” he said.

He said by providing the small-unit leader-whether it be the company commander, platoon commander or even squad leader-with immediate reconnaissance of a given area, they increase their situational awareness and their ability to plan and adapt to the mission set.

Paoletta said they’ve had a 100-percent success rate of employing VTOLs during their combat readiness evaluation.

He explained that while “under attack” during an urban environment exercise at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, California, Fox Company used the PD-100 to positively identify hostile forces located within a mock town while remaining out of sight. This confirmation allowed the company to successfully assault the town. He said squad leaders used the PD-100 to view courtyards and received instantaneous feedback on potential IEDs and hostiles.

“To paraphrase Gen. Neller, we equip the Marine with a tactical, enabling machine,” said Col. John Neville, SUAS program manager. “I’m extremely proud of our team for how quickly they tackled numerous processes and contracting actions to expedite the urgent needs request so we could get these mission-enabling and life-saving systems into the hands of the warfighter.”

PD-100 Black Hornet is a personal reconnaissance system that provides users with an immediate ISR capability. Whether supporting a search and rescue, object identification, proximity surveillance or situational awareness, the PD-100 system can be airborne within one minute, is nearly inaudible and fits inside a pocket. The system consists of two air vehicles, a single-handed controller with base station and a 7-inch, sunlight-readable display unit.

InstantEye is a man-portable, battery-powered hovering SUAS designed to be deployed rapidly from the squad level to conduct local, short-term surveillance and reconnaissance for situational awareness. The standard payload for the all-environment system consists of three fixed electro-optical cameras with optional infrared illumination for night operation. Each system consists of two air vehicles, a ground control station, and spare batteries and parts.

Kristine Wilcox provides communication support to the Navy and Marine Corps Small Tactical Unmanned Aircraft Systems Program Office.