Friday, May 22, 2009

Military Police Take to the Skies

1st Lt. Justin Prophet, 747th Military Police Co., conducts a pre-flight inspection of the RQ-11 Raven unmanned aerial vehicle during a flight demonstration at Devens, Mass., May 6, 2009. (U.S. Army photo: Staff Sgt. Don Veitch)

DEVENS, Mass. – Six kilometers Northeast of Mosul, Iraq, Soldiers of the 747th Military Police Company, Massachusetts National Guard, speed towards their objective; the village of Olmush. The daily activities of the village unfold before the eyes of 747th, despite being 2 kilometers away. Shopkeepers hawking wares, sheppards tending flocks and insurgents placing improvised explosive devices are all clearly visible on 1st Lt. Justin Prophet’s laptop screen.
Prophet marks the location on his screen, radios in to report the suspicious activity and continues scanning the screen for additional danger. Moments after calling in the threat, Prophet maintains watch on the insurgents as the Quick Reaction Force moves in and neutralizes the IED and apprehends the suspects.

Olmush has recently been the focal point of a new round of insurgent attacks and the 747th has been sent in to investigate. With the threat to Prophet’s convoy removed, the MPs are clear to complete their mission.
Though the above account is fictitious, similar scenarios play out in Iraq and Afghanistan on a regular basis. The technology may seem futuristic but is readily available to units right now and it’s called “The Raven.”
The RQ-11 Raven is a small unmanned aerial vehicle equipped with two video cameras, manufactured by AeroVironment, Inc. Day and night cameras are included with the system and are capable of giving even the smallest unit control of overhead battlefield reconnaissance.
The Massachusetts National Guard has received the first of its scheduled Raven systems, through a rapid fielding initiative led by Aerodyne, Inc. As units prepare for deployment they will be outfitted with the stealthy UAV; as these units return home they will maintain possession of the Ravens to use for domestic missions.
With the recent fielding of the aircraft systems, the 747th is the first unit in Massachusetts to receive the Raven UAV system. “We have two aircraft with six sets of replacement parts,” said Capt. James Jones, commander of the 747th.
“We jumped at the opportunity to send our Soldiers down for an 80 hour course at Redstone Arsenal in Alabama,” said Jones, “I still can’t believe we have them.”
The four Soldiers that attended the training have been broken down into two teams that consist of a vehicle and mission operator. 1st Lt. Justin Prophet and Sgt. 1st Class Jason Randor are paired together to make Team Alpha. The second team operators are 1st Lt. Samuel Bath and Sgt. 1st Class William Wolski.
The fifteen days at Redstone Arsenal were spent learning the aircraft’s specifications, capabilities and hands on flight training. Soldiers also learned to use a simulator that comes with the system, to help keep up the teams skills when they are not able to put the aircraft into the sky.
The Raven operators of the 747th and one of their instructors, Philip Owen, an operations specialist from Aerodyne were on hand for the formal demonstration at Devens, Mass., May 6, 2009.
The demonstration highlighted the many advantages the 747th will have on their upcoming deployment later this year. “There are dozens of applications for this system; route reconnaissance, force protection and night observation of targets,” said Bath.”
The Raven’s inclusion into the 747th’s inventory will provide expanded capabilities both home and abroad. “Overseas, this system will mostly be used for route and pre-mission recon,” said Jones. What we’re seeing in Iraq is many IEDs are being setup shortly before a convoy comes through.
“We can fly mobile operations with the Raven by putting a control system in our convoy and have the bird fly ahead of us; giving us real-time reconnaissance,” said Bath.
“Stateside mission applications would be support for major events like the Democratic National Convention or the Fourth of July celebrations at the Esplanade. The Raven can assist with any man made disaster as well as search and rescue operations,” said Jones.
The Raven is designed to be light, portable and easy to maintain. “The system is a two-man operating team, but you can fit it all into one rucksack, breaks apart on landing to dissipate force and then just slips back together,” said Bath. With maintenance installations throughout the theater, the 747th can easily swap out broken parts to keep their Raven systems up and running.
Completely assembled, the aircraft weighs in at just over 4 pounds; the heaviest component is the battery. Each battery yields 60-90 minutes of flight time on a full charge. The Raven’s operational flight time is limited by the quantity of available batteries. “We’ll take as many [batteries] as we can carry,” said Randor.
Soldiers can recharge from numerous sources, when available battery power does not meet mission needs. “Batteries can be charged off of anything, non-tactical and tactical vehicles. The system is capable of lengthy observation if you need it,” said Owen.
The greatest benefit of the Raven system isn’t what it does; it’s who it helps. This UAV is operationally controlled by the troops on the ground in direct support of their own operations. “It’s a company level asset; even battalions have never had it dedicated to them like this. The Raven is available at platoon level to use as needed. Real-time video, that’s the biggest asset you get to determine when and where you use it,” said Owen.
Thanks to the Raven UAV system, the 747th will soon deploy with a dynamic force-multiplier that provides greater mission capabilities than any previous Massachusetts National Guard unit.

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