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.
USMC Warfighting Laboratory (USMC Photos).
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
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,
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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:
Area reconnaissance (less than point).
Confirmation of other intelligence sources.
Investigation of the situation in a city
Reconnaissance of bridges and routes with
patrols, and from towns.
Identification of forces that were firing
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
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.