Aboard USS Boxer -- From its runway the aircraft takes off into the sky for an aerial reconnaissance mission. It climbs to a lofty 10,000 feet and travels to its destination several miles away. From its vantage point it has a bird’s eye view of the entire area and even the darkest of nights is no problem.
After a long nine-hour day on station the aircraft returns home and lands safely on the deck, ready to fly another day at a days notice, all without the pilot moving so much as a finger to fly it. Sort of.
The 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit recently received a new and revolutionary unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) to help perform intelligence gathering missions on the battlefield.
Known as Silver Fox, the UAV could be the force multiplier that gives the 15th MEU the extra edge it needs to win battles. Currently, the 15th MEU is the only unit operating the Silver Fox UAV system.
According to Sgt. Bobby Phillips, aerial vehicle operator, 15th MEU, the Silver Fox is a UAV that is currently in the testing phase with the Marines that was developed by Advanced Ceramics in Tucson.
The Silver Fox system includes three aircraft, a control terminal, a launching system, an antenna and has three crew members. Silver Fox has an eight foot wingspan, a five foot long fuselage and weighs about 24 pounds and is easily carried by one person.
UAV’s are not new to the Marine Corps. Others, such as Dragon Eye, have been around for quite some time, however, the biggest difference between Silver Fox and the others are the capabilities, explained Phillips.
“The difference I know about Silver Fox compared to all the other [UAV's] such as the Dragon Eye is that the Dragon Eye can only fly for about an hour rather Silver Fox can fly for about 10 hours up to an altitude of 12,000 feet if it has to,” said Phillips.
Phillips further explained that Silver Fox does not require any physical piloting to accomplish its mission. Being fully autonomous and flying via global positioning satellite, it can take off its own, fly to its destination, and go into a left turn orbit keeping the camera fixed on its target and then return home where it will land itself.
“All the operator has to do is perform the preflight checks and ensure the aircraft is functional, launch it after telling it where to go using touch screen technology and it will fly,” said Phillips.
Another advantage to using the Silver Fox is that it can provide real time video to mission commanders via a remote video terminal (RVT) that is a hardened and portable video terminal.
“I can give the commander the hardened case, be in a totally different grid square operating the UAV and he can be on the way to an objective and see what I see through the RVT,” said Phillips.
“[The raid commander] can -- through communications -- tell me to check out this objective and I can do it. There’s nothing better than to have live feed of an objective for a mission commander,” he said.
“Station keeping” is another feature of the UAV. Since the ground control module is mobile, the operator can move and control the aircraft at the same time. If for instance a vehicle convoy is traveling along a road, the UAV can be positioned in such a way as to provide overwatch to the Marines, explained Phillips.
Though the Silver Fox is still in the testing phase with the 15th MEU, Phillips is sure that it will be an asset on the next deployment. Having the ability to perform night operations and the ability to have live video feed on the target before, during and after an attack could give the Marines a definite advantage on the battlefield, he explained.
“I think it’s going to be a great thing for the Marine Corps to be able to fly at night and still be able to see the enemy,” he said.