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NEWS | Oct. 18, 2023

Joint Integration Between Marines, Air Force, and Navy Prepares Use of Unmanned Aircraft Systems for Expeditionary Flight During Slte 5-23

By Lance Cpl. Anna Higman, Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms

U.S. service members conducted flight training with both Air Force MQ-9A and Navy MQ-8C unmanned aircraft systems during Service Level Training Exercise 5-23, July 27, 2023.

This is the first instance of MQ-8C flight operations at the Combat Center.

SLTE 5-23 is designed to challenge commanders to operate in a notional littoral environment simulated in the training areas at The Combat Center. Integrating the MQ-9A and the MQ-8C into SLTE 5-23 increases the number of reconnaissance capabilities available to commanders.

“The primary purpose of the MQ-8C is to be a maritime search platform, specifically building what we call a regional maintenance provider that’s attached to a ship to increases situational awareness,” said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Brian Paskey, the department head of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 21(HSC-21).

The MQ-8C is an unmanned helicopter that is controlled remotely from the ground. It can operate off pre-determined commands or an aircraft operator can pilot it to gain target information from the onboard sensors.

The MQ-9A Reaper is a remote piloted aircraft used in SLTE 5-23, as a replacement for manned aircraft, explained Marine Corps Lt. Col. Nathaniel Griggs, deputy director of Aviation Combat and Integration with Marine Air-Ground Task Force Training Command. This decreases the risk of casualties during reconnaissance missions.

The Marine Corps is working with the Navy and the Air Force to increase joint military readiness across the spectrum of military operations.

“The Marine Corps is very new to the MQ-9A business,” Griggs said. “Knowing this, we have partnered with the 432nd Wing out of Creech Air Force Base, Nevada, in a relationship that is mutually beneficial.”

SLTE combines air, ground and logistical capabilities to prepare the Marine Air-Ground Task Force for quick and effective responses to military operations worldwide.

“For both squadrons, we [at MAGTFTC] provide a unique opportunity to work with Marines and joint partners in a dynamic training environment.” Griggs said.

The MQ-8C is capable of relaying information to other manned aircraft in the sky, increasing a pilot’s situational awareness, creating a network of air support.

The unmanned nature of the MQ-8C allows ground troops to employ long-range ordnance, explained Paskey.

By working as a joint force during exercises like SLTE 5-23, service members can test the limits of the MQ-8C and MQ-9A without the risk of danger. It provides an opportunity to get new experience with the aircraft that will better prepare them for the conflict of tomorrow.

“Simply having our sister services here, bringing their perspectives and ‘ways of doing it’ with them is invaluable to everyone,” Griggs stated. “For all that we learn from them, they also learn from us, and I pity the adversary who will meet us as we increase our joint effectiveness.”