Yuma’s eyes in the sky: Unmanned Aerial Vehicle 4 nearing full operational status

Photo by Cpl. Austin Hazard

Story by Lance Cpl. Laura Cardoso

The U.S. military began experimenting with unmanned aircraft as early as World War I. By World War II, unmanned craft could be controlled by radio signals, usually from another aircraft. Later, unmanned aerial vehicles that could return from a mission and be recovered appeared in the late 1950s. Today, UAV’s perform a wide range of missions and are used by all four branches of the military.

Yuma was selected as the site for a portion of the Corps’ newest squadron, Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron 4, which control the RQ-7B Shadow UAV.

“The Marine Corps needs a VMU because it provides those extra set of eyes for the MAGTF commander to see the battle field and to tell them what’s going on out there,” said Maj. Brian Cole, VMU-4 site and detachment commander and native of Franklin, N.Y. “Our mission is to provide intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance for the MAGTF commander to support specific missions.”

VMU-4, along with its sister units, are used for day or night reconnaissance, surveillance, target acquisition and battle damage assessment and is equipped with a sensor, a camera and a laser to identify targets and guide weapons.

The Shadow has a 13-foot wingspan, weighs 350 pounds and flies at around 14,000 ft. at 70 knots with approximately five hours endurance. It has a fixed tricycle undercarriage, is powered by a single UEL AR-741 rotary engine, can carry a GPS system for independent operations and is launched by catapult or conventional take-off. With its latest updates, the Shadow is able to transmit a live feed into the new AH-1 Cobra’s cockpit.

A complete Shadow 200 system consists of four RQ-7B UAVs and support equipment that includes two Ground Control Stations that control the UAVs, two ground data terminals that provide Line-of-Sight and non-Line-of-Sight datalinks, a launcher, a tactical automatic landing system and an aerial vehicle transport. Adding weapons to the Shadow is currently being discussed by Headquarters Marine Corps.

VMU-4, which arrived in Yuma last year, is not one hundred percent established. However, when it is completed, it will be comprised of more than 200 Marines and Sailors and 12 aircraft.

Due to the value of the squadron in Iraq and Afghanistan, VMU squadrons are continuously deployed.

“I was with VMU-2 in the first push to Afghanistan with a UAV,” said Sgt. Wardell Sarkinen, VMU-4 air vehicle operator and 25-year-old native of Vancouver, Washington. “We found a lot of incidents where guys will come out and shoot their weapons and walk around blending in with the crowd. Usually we wouldn’t be able to find them but with the UAV we were able to get positive identification and catch the guy. We did a lot of road scans and found the people planting IED’s, we had a lot of cool missions. They are doing great things out there.”

Once it is fully established and deployable, the squadron is expected to alleviate the busy deployment schedule of the other three VMUs and give those Marines a chance to stay at home with their families.