U.S. Task Force Marines increase unit readiness with small UAS

Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force – Southern Command is certified as small Unmanned Aircraft System operators at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, after months of training for the capability to use these small drones to get aerial depictions of a given terrain. 1st Lt. Heather Chairez, Marine Corps Forces South, reports.
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SPMAGTF-SC Marines train with an RQ-11B Raven during an operator course at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. Marines with SPMAGTF-SC are training with unmanned aircraft systems to enhance their capabilities for upcoming missions (Picture source: U.S. Marine Corps/Sgt. Andy Martinez)

This is the first iteration of the SPMAGTF-SC out of the last six years to have eight Marines certified as SUAS operators. Along with many other capabilities, the SPMAGTF-SC can now offer partner nations live drone surveillance as a means to support crisis response missions and activities in the Latin American and Caribbean region.

“The new capability would allow the task force to enhance search and rescue operations if a crisis response is needed in the area of operations,” said Cpl. Tryston Compton, a geospatial analyst for the SPMAGTF-SC. “The live camera feed from the sky would allow the operator to locate those that are in need of assistance.”

The majority of SPMAGTF-SC are based out of Camp Lejeune, ready to deploy to the U.S. Southern Command area of responsibility at a moment’s notice and work alongside partner nation militaries. Additionally, there are approximately 20 task force Marines at Soto Cano Air Base, Honduras, who have integrated with Joint Task Force-Bravo, a U.S. Southern Command task force who operate a forward air base, organize multilateral exercises and support regional missions in cooperation with partner nations. The entire task force is on standby to support the partner nation militaries in the region when responding to man-made crises or natural disasters.

“It all comes down to increasing our capabilities for the unexpected, and that’s what this certification has allowed the SPMAGTF-SC to do,” said 1st Lt. Robert McCain, an intelligence officer with the SPMAGTF-SC. “This is a great addition to the commander’s operational capability by having the constant feed of data from the sky that can only improve the situational awareness and safety from the ground,” McCain added.

The service members are trained to operate the SUAS, using one Marine to fly the drone with a hand controller while the another operating a laptop and receiving the live feed from the sky through real-time, full-motion video and sensor data via the hand controller, said Compton.