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Dragon Eye UAV System Update

Dragon Eye UAV System Update

Battle tested, Dragon Eye will be fielded while capability upgrades and experimentation continue. By the Staff, Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory, published by the Marine Corps Gazette, January 2004 Volume 88. Source: USMC Warfighting Laboratory (USMC Photos).

  • Background

Dragon Eye is a small, battery powered, bungee or hand launched, back-packable, autonomous unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) system intended for use at the battalion or company level. A Dragon Eye UAV system consists of two air vehicles, a ground control station, and a field support kit. Each air vehicle contains interchangeable nose assemblies with forward- and side-looking color electro-optical or low-light monochrome cameras. The ground control station consists of a laptop and communications control box (CCB). The laptop contains software so that the operator can plan and retask the air vehicle’s mission. The CCB contains the transmitters, receivers, and antennae to communicate with the air vehicle and goggles to view video from the air vehicle in near-realtime.

Two contractors, AeroVironment, Inc. and BAI Aerosystems, Inc. developed prototype Dragon Eye UAV systems. On 13 November 2003, a contract was awarded to AeroVironment, Inc. for up to 1,026 air vehicles, 342 ground control stations, and 342 field support kits. The contact includes technical support and contractor logistics support. Marine Corps Systems Command (MarCorSysCom)will begin fielding the Dragon Eye systems in early 2004, while the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory (MCWL) will continue further technology insertion and experimentation.

  • Dragon Eye Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) Participation

In September 2002, 1st Marine Division issued a universal need statement for a Dragon Eye-type capability to be placed in the field. MCWL and MarCorSysCom responded by providing developmental versions of AeroVironment’s Option 2 Dragon Eye systems to 1st Marine Division units. The preproduction assets and logistics support were provided as an extended user assessment. The user assessment was intended to provide qualitative feedback from Marines using the system in real-world situations and insights into the Dragon Eye operational concept, training, tactics, techniques, and procedures.

The different units organized and operated the Dragon Eye UAV system in various ways. In general they found Dragon Eye useful and thought it did what they wanted it to do—provide reconnaissance “over the next hill.” While supporting OIF each unit flew Dragon Eye about 3 to 30 times. The following summarizes how the different operational units used Dragon Eye.

  • Command and control

The majority of units kept Dragon Eye as a battalion asset with missions tasked by the battalion commander, intelligence officer, or higher commands. These intelligence officers were proactive in Dragon Eye use. They suggested missions to the battalion and worked with operators on their mission plan. One unit made Dragon Eye a company-level asset with the company or platoon commander controlling its use. This unit used Dragon Eye the least, perhaps as a result of the different organizational relationship (possibly including the company and platoon commanders not having time to plan or task Dragon Eye use).

  • Airspace deconfliction

In general the units asked the battalion air officer or company forward air controller if they could employ the Dragon Eye, and that officer would allow it with restrictions; i.e., maximum altitude, stay to a side of a particular road. No problems were encountered using this method.

  • Operator military occupational specialty (MOS)

The Dragon Eye UAV was sometimes not employed because of conflicts with the operator’s other responsibilities. The operators’ MOSs included intelligence, reconnaissance, rifleman, missileman, assaultman, data network technician, light armored vehicle (LAV) crewman, and ground communications repairman. Some felt that having at least one Dragon Eye operator with an intelligence background was crucial because they would have less conflicting job responsibilities and would know how to better analyze and report what they saw in realtime.

  • Training

All operators found the Dragon Eye UAV system easy to use. They trained other Marines to assist or employ Dragon Eye on their own. These Marines thought the system was intuitive.

Operators thought that the training provided was adequate (about 5 days), particularly the troubleshooting when the ground control station has problems.

Operation. Flights during the deployment occurred on terrain that consisted of flat, open desert (sometimes with hills), small towns, and cities and edges of Baghdad. Most of the time it was windy and sandy.

Most Dragon Eye flights were unplanned, occurring when an opportunity to employ the equipment became apparent during a tactical situation. Some missions were preplanned, but some of those missions were not flown due to the high operational tempo of troop movement.

The Dragon Eye UAV system was employed for many types of missions to include, but not limited to:

·        Point reconnaissance.

·        Area reconnaissance (less than point).

·        Confirmation of other intelligence sources.

·        Investigation of the situation in a city before entry.

·        Reconnaissance of bridges and routes with patrols, and from towns.

·        Identification of forces that were firing on them.

·        Battle damage assessment.

·        During a convoy movement.

Operators had various results in what they could observe through Dragon Eye, partially based on their level of exposure to wind and sand conditions. In general they could see people, HMMWVs, tanks, LAVs, vehicles, and guard posts. But they could not identify people except by their actions or tell if they were armed, find what effect friendly artillery had on an enemy position, or classify some vehicle types.

  • Future Research and Development

In general the units that used the Dragon Eye UAV system during OIF did not think much needed to be changed but suggested a few things that would make operations easier and potentially more beneficial to Marines. There were two key improvements that all of the units felt were required of the Dragon Eye UAV system:

·        An infrared or thermal camera capability for night-flight operations.

·        The ability to see more detail—either by flying lower or using a camera with a zoom capability not presently available in the baseline configuration.

 In line with these assessments, the research and development efforts and technology insertion related to the Dragon Eye UAV program will continue at MCWL and will include, but not be limited to, (1) the development of a high-resolution 640 x 480 infrared camera (flight testing is underway), (2) the development of a communications relay payload, (3) an integrated communications system, and (4) experimentation with alternate power supplies and air vehicle design to improve endurance.


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Directeur de la publication : Joël-François Dumont
Comité de rédaction : Jacques de Lestapis, Hugues Dumont, François de Vries (Bruxelles), Hans-Ulrich Helfer (Suisse), Michael Hellerforth (Allemagne).
Comité militaire : VAE Guy Labouérie (†), GAA François Mermet (2S), CF Patrice Théry (Asie).

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