The commandant's vision of the Marine Corps of the future is coming true. The 300-Marine task force that will deploy to Helmand province, Afghanistan, in an advisory capacity will bring with them a range of small unmanned aerial vehicles, including quadcopters similar to those similar to those available for off-the-shelf purchase.
Marines with Task Force Southwest spent the day Feb. 8 training with Instant Eye, a tactical low-cost hand-launched drone mounted with multiple cameras to provide an accurate picture of the battlespace. According to Instant Eye manufacturer Physical Sciences Inc., the little drone weighs about a pound and can go from a stowed configuration to airborne in under 30 seconds, a plus for grunts carrying the system downrange.
A spokeswoman for II MEF, Maj. Kendra Motz, confirmed that the task force would deploy to Helmand with the small UAVs, but would not say how many of the systems the unit would take or how many of them would be Instant Eye drones.
"The Marines with Task Force Southwest will deploy with a variety of unmanned aerial equipment platforms to meet multiple tactical and operational requirements," she told Military.com in a statement. "Due to operational security, the number and specific employment of small unmanned aerial systems deploying with Task Force Southwest will not be discussed."
The small UAVs will be used for observation and other activities, she added.
Infantry Marines have used quadcopters including Instant Eye systems in exercises including last fall's Marine Air-Ground Task Force Integrated Experiment. However, this may be the first reported instance of the Marines using the small systems downrange.
Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller has repeatedly discussed his interest in putting the devices in the hands of every Marine rifle squad across the Corps as a cheap way to boost situational awareness and monitor threats. He reiterated the goal in planning guidance released this month, citing a need to deliver quadcopters "to all Marine rifle squads immediately."
"This is just one small part of a larger effort to modernize the GCE and provide it with a '5th generation capability' similar to what we are currently doing with the incorporation of the F-35 and other advanced platforms, sensors and networks in the air combat element," he wrote in the guidance. "These efforts will, in turn, be shared with and enhance the situational awareness, survivability, and lethality of all Marine ground units."
According to a service news release, training on the mini-drones for the Marines from Task Force Southwest included night operations, maneuvering through and around obstacles, and operating the system indoors.
"We can send this thing ahead and it can look for us," Cpl. Isaac Brown, an intelligence specialist with the task force, said in the release. "We don't have to send Marines not knowing what's on the other side of any obstacle."