‘Shadow’ Unmanned Air Vehicle in Iraq

By Cpl. Vernon R. O’Donnell, USA
Special to AFPS

A Shadow tactical unmanned aerial vehicle is propelled into the air for a flight after completing maintenance checks.

Photo by Cpl. Vernon R. O’Donnell, USA

Having better intelligence than your enemy is vital to the success of a military operation, and the current situation in Iraq is no exception

.Every day, terrorists, insurgents, and members of the ousted Baath Party attempt ambushes and place improvised explosive devices intended to kill innocent civilians and coalition soldiers.

To combat this, the Army has recently developed and deployed a new information gatherer – the Shadow, a tactical unmanned aerial vehicle.

Soldiers from the 312th and 313th Military Intelligence Battalions operate and maintain the Shadow TUAV for the 82nd Airborne Division, which is calling the Anbar province home these days. The vehicle’s mission is to gather intelligence from high altitudes, which allows it to remain mostly imperceptible to enemy detection.

For the plane to accomplish its mission effectively, a variety of different soldier occupations must work together effectively.

"The TUAV platoons are made up of TUAV operators, mechanics, and electronic- warfare technicians," said Staff Sgt. Matthew Norris, the platoon standardization instructor pilot from the 312th. "It is important for all the different (specialists) to work together, because they all cover very different areas in the operation."

The 312th normally is part of the 1st Calvary Division, from Fort Hood, Texas, but they have been temporarily assigned to the 82nd. The 82nd does not yet have its own Shadows, so it borrowed a platoon from the 1st Cavalry for the current deployment to Iraq. In addition to performing normal combat missions, the soldiers from the 312th are training the soldiers from the 313th for when they receive their own equipment.

Normally, each brigade-level asset in a combat division would have its own TUAV platoon, but that was impossible, given the current situation and the lack of 82nd-specific TUAVs. The platoon at Forward Operating Base Ridgway is responsible for supporting the entire 82nd Airborne Division and its subordinate elements throughout the largest province in Iraq.

"This platoon is supporting the entire division, so we are further apart than normal," said Chief Warrant Officer James Harris. "An added intricacy is that the launch/recovery site has to occasionally fly missions, so we are operating at a higher rate and a nonstandard format for this system."

The soldiers at Ridgway are responsible for launch and recovery and all maintenance on the Shadows. Once the vehicle passes all preflight checks and is launched, the operators maneuver it into position for a team at the division headquarters to take control. The Shadows are designed so flight operation can be transferred seamlessly from a team at one location to another at a separate location.

Supporting the entire division makes it even more important to keep all four Shadows fully operational. The platoon takes this task very seriously and performs thorough and consistent maintenance.

"We are the only TUAV platoon in the Army, at this time, to go through the initial 500 hours of flight time without any incidents," said Staff Sgt. Jason O’Neill, the platoon sergeant for the group from the 312th.

The significance of the Shadow’s mission isn’t lost on the soldiers who make it happen. "While we are flying our birds and doing surveillance, we are saving troopers’ lives," said Pfc. Emmanuel Rendon, a Shadow operator, "either from route recon, looking for IEDs, or identifying any enemy ambushes or attacks on the road."