MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Va. -- Hot-air balloons were used to increase intelligence during the Civil War and 150 years later satellite imagery can do extraordinary things, but during that time very little has improved to help the situational awareness of the company commander on the ground.
With the introduction of the Dragoneye Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, officially called the Small Unit Remote Scouting System, company commanders will have a new asset that will aid them in detecting, identifying and engaging or avoiding enemy units without risk to personnel.
"This small unmanned air vehicle will provide information that here-to-fore could only be provided (within the battalion's organic capabilities) via patrolling or outpost activities," said LtCol. Don Bruce, program manager for the SURSS. "Marine lives and time will be saved by providing this capability to them."
Dragoneye is a five-pound, hand-launched, reusable vehicle with a wingspan of 45 inches. The air vehicle flies at an altitude of 300-500 feet above ground at a speed of approximately 35 miles per hour. The system has a mission duration of 30-60 minutes. The UAV's interchangeable payloads, autopilot and propulsion system are commercial-off-the-shelf subsystems. The ground control station uses a rugged COTS laptop computer.
"We awarded a contract Nov. 12 that is very flexible in the number of systems we can purchase each year," said Bruce. "Our initial acquisition strategy may be altered as we deal with Urgent Need requests from Marine units going back to Iraq."
Each Dragoneye system will include three air vehicles and one ground control station.
The vehicle can be launched by two Marines and then will fly a preprogrammed route using GPS waypoints to navigate. Once in the objective area it uses on-board sensors to gather and transmit imagery back to the ground control station.
The UAV can be carried in its' own backpack by one Marine. A team of two Marines will operate and can pack the UAV, the 10-pound Ground Control Station and a supply of batteries during foot-mobile operations. The UAV can also be used in the urban environment to provide additional security to a patrol in their area of coverage and during convoy operations to provide route reconnaissance.