Combat Camera: 'Night Owls' Scan From Above, Provide MEB-Afghanistan With Real-Time Intelligence
Dispatches from the Front:
CAMP DWYER, HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan, Sept. 21, 2009 -- Unmanned aerial vehicles from Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron 2 survey Helmand province 24 hours a day, seven days a week, in support of the ground units of Marine Expeditionary Brigade-Afghanistan.
The squadron, nicknamed "Night Owls," uses two different types of UAVs to accomplish their mission and provide Marine Aircraft Group 40 and MEB-Afghanistan with real-time information of designated areas of operation.
"Our mission is to provide intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance for the MEB through still imagery and real-time full-motion video, day or night, for the infantry battalions on the ground as well as 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion," said Lt. Col. Brian Wright, the squadron executive officer.
Since moving the majority of their detachment here, the squadron has increased its operational efficiency with help from Marine Wing Support Squadron 371.
In just two days, the Night Owls and Sand Sharks worked together to finish building an expeditionary airfield approximately the size of three football fields in length.
"The aluminum matting-2 provides us with the solid ground that we need," said Wright. "It will increase mission capability rates and make it easier to keep our aircraft in the air."
The squadron currently uses the RQ-7B Shadow and ScanEagle UAVs to accomplish their mission. The Shadow is used day and night for reconnaissance, surveillance, battle damage assessments, and radio relay to support the ground units, while the ScanEagle possesses the same capabilities along with faster flight speed and longer flight time.
By the end of October, the Shadow is expected to accumulate approximately 600 flight hours, while the ScanEagle should reach close to 18,000 flight hours.
These aircraft are not simply looking for the enemy's location, they're also used to give mission planners a picture of the entire battlespace.
"We have a very important role here supporting the ground guys," said Wright. "When they can't see over the horizon or in a particular area, we provide them not only with the location of the enemy, but more importantly with the location of friendly [units]."
Like all aircraft, maintenance is necessary to keep these UAVs airborne. Both aircraft are easily maintained and now have a solid flight line of their own to take off from and land on.
"We conduct our dailys (daily inspections) prior to takeoff, but the UAVs are not high-maintenance," said Lance Cpl. Gregory Dixon, an aviation mechanic and plane captain for the Night Owls. "After that, we spy on the bad guys and as long as we're in the air, we look for any suspicious activity that we can relay to the ground units."
The Marines behind the scenes, controlling the aircraft and analyzing the intelligence, make up the core of the unit.
"We provide insight and graphic overview for the targets before Marines reach the target," said Sgt. Mark Neeley, Night Owls imagery analyst. "We have taken images of entire villages before the ground Marines even reached there and really whatever they need, we provide."
While 24-hour operations keep the Night Owls busy, they will soon be able to rest when they transfer authority to VMU-3 out of Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif., later this fall.
(Report by Lance Cpl. Samuel Nasso, Marine Aircraft Group 40.)
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