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 News Article

ScanEagle Proves Worth in Fallujah Fight

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

FALLUJAH, Iraq, Jan. 11, 2005 – FALLUJAH, Iraq, Jan. 11, 2005 – It's called ScanEagle, and it has already saved the lives of many Marines.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
A Boeing contractor explains the workings of the ScanEagle unmanned aerial vehicle to visiting military analysts. The UAV has been credited with the lives of a number of Marines during the fighting in Fallujah in 2004. Photo by Jim Garamone

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

ScanEagle is an unmanned aerial vehicle that the Marines used during Operation Al Fajr, the coalition operation to remove insurgents from this city.

The ScanEagle system, developed by Boeing and the Insitu Group of Bingen, Wash., had its baptism of fire during some of the heaviest urban combat Marines have been involved in since Hue City in Vietnam in 1968. The UAV performed flawlessly, 1st Marine Expeditionary Force officials said today.

ScanEagle is a relatively low-cost UAV at $100,000 a copy. But its real worth was giving Marines in Fallujah a real-time picture of the enemy and helping them close with and kill insurgents without becoming casualties.

Driven by a small propeller, the aircraft can stay airborne for 19 hours on just a gallon and a half of gas.

It is a "launch-and-forget" system. A catapult launches the 40-pound aircraft, and a computer operator just clicks the cursor over the area of interest. The aircraft operates autonomously.

The cameras -- either for day or night -- have enough definition to identify individuals and show if they are carrying weapons. "This was a true advantage for us during the operation," said Marine Col. John Coleman, chief of staff for the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force. The rules of engagement were such that Marines could not engage unless they were sure the proposed target was carrying a weapon or intent on harming coalition forces.

ScanEagle enabled commanders to ascertain targets and provided specific coordinates via the Global Positioning System.

The system can also track moving targets. ScanEagle gives commanders at several different levels real-time video. With the explosive growth of using the Web in warfare, commanders many miles away can direct the system.

All of this is not bad for a system designed to find tuna fish. Insitu developed the aircraft to be launched and recovered by tuna boats. Fishermen would use the UAV to spot schools of tuna.

When the Marines needed another UAV system, they contracted with Boeing in June 2004 for ScanEagle and the contractors to run it. Four Boeing employees answered the call, and ScanEagles were soon flying missions over the most dangerous city in Iraq.

The UAV is small and tough to see, said Marine officials. The contractors put the mufflers pointing up so that the enemy couldn't track the aircraft by sound. The Marines operate the aircraft at a very low altitude and lost only one to enemy fire during the weeks of intelligence gathering leading up to Operation Al Fajr.

The Marines already use the Pioneer UAV and have access to other UAV information. The ScanEagle has a small footprint. Manning for the system is small, and all the system needs to operate can be carried in four Humvees.

The Pioneer, one of the oldest UAVs in the inventory, needs a runway to operate from and several C-130s to transport the system. And it requires 120 people to operate it.

Marine officials are impressed with the ScanEagle system, and have shown the system's capabilities to Army, Navy and Air Force officials.

Marine officials do not know the true extent of the system's use. "You never really know until the Marines push the capabilities," Coleman said. "Our young Marines are the experts. They know what they need, and they have the knowledge to try new methods and stretch the capabilities of most pieces of equipment."

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