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ScanEagle patrols Iraq: VMU-2 deploys unmanned system

Marine Corps News

Story Identification #: 200541711455
Story by Gunnery Sgt. Shannon Arledge

AL ASAD, Iraq (April 17, 2005) -- AL ASAD, Iraq-Unmanned aerial vehicles have changed the way commanders, in the 21st century, decide on when and where to wage battles. The technology is more widely relied upon for today's fight in the Global War on Terrorism.

Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron 2, from Cherry Point, N.C., has been deployed to this region since 2002. This squadron provides commanders with the situational awareness ground units need to protect lives.

Located in a remote location here, VMU-2 operates a new aerial vehicle adopted into the UAV family. Smaller than its Pioneer counterpart (the system already in use), ScanEagle increases the intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance coverage in the western part of Iraq. The unmanned aircraft offers commanders day and night imagery of the battle space.

"ScanEagle compliments the Pioneer currently used. This is not a replacement," said Maj. Michael A. Juenger, VMU-2 detachment officer-in-charge, and a Downingtown, Penn., native. "This is an additional asset we have, and we are the only military service and unit with ScanEagle."

The Marine Corps first deployed with ScanEagle in July 2004. This aerial reconnaissance asset brings in the newest technology so commanders can develop a better picture of potential targets.

ScanEagle provides real-time images to intelligence analysts on the ground. These 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing analyst use the crystal-clear pictures to provide ground troops with information on enemy concentrations, number of personnel, vehicles, and activity that seems suspicious.

"I love this job, and what I'm doing," said Staff Sgt. Robert D. Custer, a native of Cumberland, Md. "We keep the units aware of what's happening. If troops are in contact with the enemy we can give commanders decision making data, and also information on who may be coming their way."

Locating the enemy is the number one mission for this small detachment. As they collect information on potential targets, the leaders on the ground decide what effective measures to take to minimize the risks against friendly forces and to destroy the enemy. Spending almost 15 hours a day gathering information, the analysts provide a solid foundation to make tactical decisions.

"ScanEagles' imagery gives the Marines an idea of how to attack. We provide an overhead picture to prepare the troops, and a better view of what is coming," said Staff Sgt. Aracely J. Dewald, intelligence analyst, and Lake Carmel, N.Y., native.

ScanEagle weighs approximately 40 pounds and has a 10-foot wing span. The aircraft operates with a small engine, requiring a small amount fuel. Its 4-foot frame can remain airborne for more than 10 hours. Take offs are easy; each drone is launched using a catapult system, which makes it runway independent and perfect for forward operating forces. Using the Global Positioning System, it is retrieved with a skyhook where the UAV catches a small, suspended rope.

"I refer to ScanEagle as a miniature robotic air vehicle," said Martin Susser, who volunteered to deploy here. He works for the Insitu Group who developed the aircraft in conjunction with Boeing,. "Other UAVs require a pilot, [someone to steer], similar to a radio controlled aircraft; ScanEagle doesn't need a pilot. We program missions guided by GPS, launch the aircraft and it gets there," added Susser, a native of White Salmon, Wash., who maintains the systems and software programs.

"This device acts as a remote forward observer; the electric eye in the sky," said Susser. "I'm impressed with its performance here. The aircraft has been tested in all different environments and weather and it's holding up well in Iraq, and providing essential battlefield information. This is an important asset."

Unable to provide specific information (for security reasons), the intelligence analysts and ScanEagle operators admit the aircraft is serving its purpose. The slow buzz of the aircraft's two- cycle engine is enough to keep potential terrorists off the streets, they said. They talk of highways once known for insurgency, communities that terrorists used for safe havens, and the hope for a terror free Iraq. This group of Marines and civilians, although modest, realize the valuable tools they operate are essential to the survival of the fighting forces on the ground.

- For more information about the personnel reported on in this story, please contact Gunnery Sgt. Shannon Arledge at -


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