MCAGCC, Twentynine Palms, Calif. -- The Marine Corps Warfighting Lab is giving some 1st Marine Division units a look into the future from a bird's-eye view.
Dragon Eye, a five-pound modular unmanned aerial vehicle, is now in the hands of Combat Center and other division units for operational assessment. The Warfighting Lab's intent is for the units to evaluate the systems after employing them in any situation they deem useful.
According to Lieutenant Col. Don Bruce, Marine Corps Systems Command, Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., the purpose of the Dragon Eye program is to give company commanders and other Fleet Marine Force small-unit leaders a much-needed reconnaissance-gathering device equivalent to those that typically support higher headquarters elements.
"There are lots of other unmanned aerial vehicles out there but generally they focus on giving reconnaissance to higher command levels. When you think about the company commander, with the exception of night vision, his ability to get instant, accurate reconnaissance is not much better than it was in the 1800s," said Bruce. "Finally we have this capability for company commanders, by simply throwing Dragon Eye into the air."
The idea behind the Dragon Eye project is to develop a "Marine proof" UAV that can be pieced together in darkness, thrown or bungee-corded into the air and deliver an instant picture of unseen battle spaces. This affords leaders the ability to enhance their situational awareness and see around corners without risking lives or waiting for other assets.
Five current systems are in use, and nine original prototypes will be delivered after being upgraded and refurbished to current standards.
"We would like to start collecting feedback as soon as possible and use that information for the initial fielding around May. Any feedback after that will go toward an upgraded system the following year," said Bruce.
Warfighting Lab personnel are getting Marines spun up on the new system in a concentrated two-part course. The system consists of three UAVs and one ground control station. Each five-pound UAV can be disassembled into five pieces and carried in a pack.
"Classes of nine students spend about two days in the classroom learning about the software and maintenance," said Sgt. Christopher Long, UAV and Mobile Ground Sensors noncommissioned officer, MCWL. "Then, they spend about three days in the field and get at least three flights each as time permits. After making sure they're proficient enough to fly, they are given missions to accomplish."
According to the MCWL's Dragon Eye fact sheet, the UAV is battery operated and capable of fully autonomous flight after a flight pattern has been established on the 12-pound ground control unit.
The vehicle is able to follow its predetermined path and adjust to in-flight changes because it is equipped with a Global Positioning System. The UAV has two full-motion, low-light and infrared cameras and is capable of transmitting video line-of-sight up to 10 kilometers.
Dragon Eye was successfully used by units during Kernal Blitz and Millennium Challenge, and should be a valuable addition to the Marine Corps' arsenal once fully integrated into the FMF.