06/28/2015: Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron 2 showcases its flight operations during routine training at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C., May 30, 2015.
Credit: Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point:6/25/15
UASs were used in a land operation with many years of infrastructure put into place, and this infrastructure – wide ranging, expensive and significant – is hardly going to be waiting for an expeditionary insertion force.
And the con-ops learned in Afghanistan clearly are a problem as well.
As one squadron member put it:
“The UAS controllers were more part of the intelligence system in Afghanistan than of the Marine Corps.
They were an asset which plugged into the intelligence gathering system, and did not operate as we do more generally with air assets in the USMC.
Normally, the airborne assets work with the ground element and share the intelligence picture in an operational context.
This was the norm in Afghanistan: an external asset managed by the intelligence system rather than organic integration with the MAGTF.
As the operations officer put it bluntly: “We are trying to burn down the whole UAV structure which the Marine Corps created in Afghanistan and shaping a new approach, one in which it is integrated within MAGTF operations.”
According to the Marines interviewed, the intelligence community views UAVs as “their assets” because that is how the system evolved in Afghanistan.
“UAV operations personnel would basically check in with the air officer who would then pass them over to intel and they would then work together.”
Rather than having UAVs as part of the fire support system, they became assets which were part of observation and evaluation and the authorization of fires was handled separately.
“This became a loop rather than a straight line which is where we would like it be when we operate as a MAGTF.”
The separation of Marine Corps UAV assets was the norm rather than the exception.
“When I would fly in Afghanistan, I might look down and see a Shadow or Scan Eagle below me, but I never once coordinated with these assts.
I had no idea what they were looking at.
I just knew that they were below me,” noted the Operations Officer.
Lt General David A. Deptula, who in his last active duty position oversaw the planning, policy, and development of Air Force UAVs, and grew that force by over 500 percent in the Air Force, agreed with the Marine officers interviewed about the need for integration.
“One of the biggest advantages of remotely piloted aircraft is that they allow for the condensation of the ‘find, fix, and finish’ kill chain onto one platform.
To capitalize on this capability these aircraft need to be integrated into the entire combat enterprise, not just one piece of it.”
That is exactly what the next phase of UAVs involve in the Marine Corps—the integration of these systems within the Air Combat Element (ACE) of the MAGTF.