SHOALWATER BAY TRAINING AREA, Queensland, Australia — Friendly forces describe it as a $30,000 flying lawnmower with a camera. Enemy forces are likely to have a less light-hearted description of it.
During American Independence Day, three Marines of Company G., Battalion Landing Team 2nd Battalion, 1st Marines, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, made Marine Corps history as they launched the first Raven unmanned aerial vehicle system in the Pacific Command area here, during Exercise Hamel 2012.
Beginning in the 1990s, the U.S. Department of Defense began utilizing UAV systems in various conflicts across the globe. As a result of its successful application during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, UAVs of all varieties have been in high demand due to its unique advantages on the battlefield.
“If you have a unit about to conduct a raid in a town, the UAV gives them the means to safely scope out the area,” said 2ndLt. Justin Lenio, assistant intelligence officer with BLT 2/1, 31st MEU. “Without putting the Marines in immediate danger, they are able to get a good grasp of the immediate situation.”
The UAV system Lenio and his Marines launched was the RQ-11B Raven B, used for low altitude day or night surveillance. Equipped with color photo and video cameras with infrared capabilities, the Raven is able to offer detailed intelligence with corresponding coordinates to each transmitted image or video feed. Constructed of a light-weight Kevlar material and designed to stay airborne for up to one and a half hours, the Raven has been considered as one of the most used UAV systems in the world.
“Due to its size and weight, the system and all accessories can be carried by one or two infantrymen in a deployed environment,” said Sgt. Matthew Sullivan, senior intelligence analyst with BLT 2/1, 31st MEU. “There are better, more accurate UAV systems out there, but the Raven is the easiest to pick up and go with.”
Although the system is proving to be an invaluable asset in overseas combat environments, UAVs have not been previously used by the Marine Corps in its Pacific Command area. Due to other operational commitments, limited frequency allocation, and air space request coordination requirements unique to the Asia-Pacific region, UAVs were not flown in PACOM exercises until its maiden voyage during Exercise Hamel.
After days of bilateral coordination, the Raven system was green-lit to be used during the exercise in the Australian Army’s Shoalwater Bay Training Area after it was determined to be the appropriate training area for such a high tech surveillance system.
“It’s an exciting day, honestly,” said Lenio. “Hopefully our use of the Raven here will pave the way for more flights in PACOM exercises.”
The Raven flown on the 4th of July made two reconnaissance flights during the morning, surveilling the areas surrounding Marine defenses in the vicinity of the Raspberry Creek training area. The Marines of Company G., BLT 2/1, 31st MEU, are preparing to defend against the assault of an Australian reinforced brigade.
Exercise Hamel 2012 is a multi-national training evolution between the U.S. Marine Corps, Australian Army and New Zealand Army, aimed at certifying the Australian 1st Brigade for operational deployment.
The 31st MEU is the only continuously forward-deployed MEU and is the nation’s force in readiness in the Asia-Pacific region.