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Eyes In The Skies Keep Insurgents On Defensive

The Scan Eagle, an unmanned aerial vehicle, prepares for takeoff in the early morning hours near Al Qaim. The UAV provides live video feeds of large areas, raising the effectiveness of aviation combat elements and lowering the risk to Marines on the ground. Photo by: Cpl. James D. Hamel.

Camp Al Qaim, Iraq (SPX) Nov 16, 2005
It's the middle of the day at Camp Gannon, Iraq, a small forward operating base on the Syrian border, when mortar rounds begin raining down on the small outpost.

In the nearby city of Husaybah, an insurgent is at the window of the top story of a three-story building, calmly placing rounds into a mortar tube, lobbing them at a Marine base. Those observing him would later comment on his apparent comfort while attacking the Marines. He fires a round, calmly fetches another one, fires it and repeats the process.

There are no U.S. service members within sight or sound, and the insurgent appears confident he can continue unabated. Then a bomb hits the insurgent's building, and he's dead. He was correct. No one was around, so how did they pinpoint his exact location?

The answer is the Scan Eagle, a lightweight unmanned aerial vehicle that provides live, high-quality video to locate and eliminate enemy fighters.

"The Scan Eagle allows both the forward air controller and us to see the target more clearly," said Maj. John B. Barranco, the Camp Al Qaim detachment officer-in-charge for Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 369 and Boston native.

In the Al Qaim area, the AH-1 Cobra and UH-1 Huey helicopters of HML/A-369 are the primary responders from the air to the threats picked up by the Scan Eagle.

Their intelligence chief constantly analyzes the video feeds, as do Marines from the region's main ground combat unit, 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment.

Meanwhile, multiple intelligence specialists at the Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron 1's Camp Al Qaim Scan Eagle detachment adjust the UAV's flight path and camera angle to ensure any suspicious activity is recorded.

If infantry Marines are in the area, the threat is reported so they can avoid potential disaster and take action. If no ground forces are present, aviation units, like HML/A-369, are dispatched to deal with the enemy. As is often the case, Cobras or Hueys are in the air performing different missions when a threat is discovered by the Scan Eagle. From there, good communication with VMU-1 allows the pilots to switch gears and neutralize a new target.

"Trust is important," said Staff Sgt. Matthew G. Cornejo, the intelligence chief for the Scan Eagle detachment at Al Qaim and Bay City, Mich., native. "There's no miscommunication (between the Scan Eagle detachment and the helicopter pilots). We know how to positively identify targets and they have to trust what we tell them."

To generate images, the Scan Eagle flies in a large circular pattern above an area. It can see everything that goes on inside that orbit, and also hundreds of meters outside. To chase a subject on the ground, the pilots adjust the center of the orbit to keep in the flight path of the UAV.

Cornejo said the Scan Eagle is remarkably lightweight and fuel efficient compared to other UAVs. The Pioneer , for example, can only fly for a few hours on a full tank of fuel, while the Scan Eagle can fly from dawn to dusk.

Eventually, said Barranco, new technology will allow the Cobra pilots to view Scan Eagle video feeds within the cockpit. Until then, intelligence analysts on the ground are always working to keep Marines a step ahead.

"It's important we neutralize threats before they can put anyone in danger," said Lance Cpl. Matthew A. Koupmann, a Janesville, Wis., native and intelligence analyst for the Scan Eagle detachment. "Even if we find only one insurgent, then that's one less person shooting at the Marines on the ground."

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Five US Marines Killed In Iraq
Baghdad (AFP) Nov 16, 2005
Five US marines were killed in western Iraq on Wednesday, bringing the two-day American death toll to nine, as the government faced calls for an international inquiry into torture allegations at a clandestine Baghdad prison.

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