> our title:

USMC Report on Drone Ops in Afghanistan

> original title:

US Marine Corps Afghan Drone Operations in Regional Command Southwest

(Source: US Marine Corps; dated Oct. 4, 2011)

(Released Dec. 17, 2011 by the Public Intelligence website)

Purpose: To inform Deputy Commandants (DCs) Aviation, Combat Development and Integration (CD&I), Plans, Policies, and Operations (PP&O), Installations and Logistics (I&L), Commanding General (CG), Training and Education Command (TECOM), Director of Intelligence, operating forces, and others on results of a Marine Corps Center for Lessons Learned (MCCLL) collection conducted April – May 2011 to document lessons and observations regarding unmanned aerial systems (UAS) operations in support of Regional Command Southwest (RC (SW)) during Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF).

Bottom Line up Front

The RQ-7B Shadow UAS employed by the Marine Corps is a U. S. Army program of record. Because it is an Army program the Shadow has very high frequency (VHF) but no ultra-high frequency (UHF) retransmission capability. UHF is the primary means of communication between key elements of the Marine air command and control system (MACCS), airborne Marine Corps aviation assets, and Marine joint terminal attack controllers (JTAC) and forward air controllers (FAC). Developing a UHF retransmission capability for an organic USMC UAS was regarded as a primary need.

USMC units were dependent on joint assets for armed UAS missions and competed with virtually every other combat unit in OEF to schedule armed UAS sorties. Developing an organic armed USMC UAS was regarded as a priority.

Third Marine Aircraft Wing (MAW) Forward (Fwd) conceived and initiated a staff organization called the Marine air ground task force (MAGTF) Aerial Reconnaissance Coordination Cell (MARCC). The intent of the MARCC was to ensure that all aviation combat element (ACE) intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities, manned and unmanned, were coordinated and employed to maximum effectiveness.

The establishment of the MARCC initially generated operational friction between the RC (SW) ACE and the ground combat element (GCE). The ACE regarded the MARCC as a more efficient means of conducting command and control of ACE assets. However, the GCE had been accustomed to a greater degree of autonomy in employing UASs and perceived the establishment of the MARCC as an impediment to responsiveness and their ability to dynamically retask UASs as desired.

As the ground scheme of maneuver evolved, establishing and supporting UAS “hubs” and “spokes” in proximity to ground forces posed a significant challenge to 3d MAW (Fwd) planners. [MCCLL Note: A hub is a UAS airfield base of operations used to launch and recover UASs and a spoke is a scalable outlying UAS control site supported by the hub.] In addition to requiring facilities suitable for the launch, recovery, and maintenance of UASs, a key consideration was the appropriate manning of each hub and spoke. A significant limiting factor in the MAW’s ability to establish hubs and spokes was a lack of trained intelligence analysts, UAS mission commanders, and maintenance personnel (this included contract maintenance support for the ScanEagle UAS due to contractor habitability mandates subject to that contract).

The volume of UAS sorties and their importance to the MAGTF is expected to increase in the future, including the development of a logistics support UAS and a new small tactical unmanned aerial system (STUAS). This has generated a need to determine where UAS assets would best be located within the ACE of the MAGTF. The Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron ONE and TWO (VMU-1 / VMU-2) commanding officers believed they should be located within a Marine aircraft group (MAG) just as all USMC aviation squadrons.

[MCCLL Note: The VMUs are located within the Marine air control group (MACG) in garrison. During OEF deployment the VMUs were located directly within the MAW (Fwd) because there were no deployed MAGs and the MACG was composed of a small detachment.]

Click here for the full report (29 pages in PDF format) on the Public Intelligence website.