Photo Information

Lance Cpl. Nicholas Powell, a Marine with 1st Battalion, 12th Marine Regiment, prepares to throw the Unmanned Aerial System at Marine Corps Training Area Bellows, Hawaii, March 8, 2017. The UAS is mainly used for aerial reconnaissance and can also be used for observation, local security, targeting, and prosecuting.

Photo by Lance Cpl. Matthew Kirk

Ready, set, take off; 1/12 tests UAS

18 Mar 2017 | Lance Cpl. Matthew Kirk The Official United States Marine Corps Public Website

Marines with 1st Battalion, 12th Marine Regiment tested an Unmanned Aerial System, also known as the RQ-20 Puma, at Marine Corps Training Area Bellows, Hawaii, March 8, 2017.

The Puma provides land-based and maritime intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance. It also allows small units the ability to detect improvised explosive devices, according to

The Marine Corps introduced the Puma to its operating units in 2012.

“This was 1st Bn., 12th Marines first time utilizing the UAS,” said 1st Lt. Jesse Schmitt, a ground intelligence officer with 1st Battalion, 12th Marine Regiment. “We haven’t conducted any fire missions with it yet but we’re looking to utilize it at Pohakuloa Training Area on the Big Island of Hawaii.”

Schmitt said the system can benefit the battalion in many ways. 

“It helps because it’s another set of eyes,” Schmitt said “We can put the bird in the air and advance it forward to gain reconnaissance on the targets and their positions in the area.”

The Puma can scan an area 360 degrees using a lightweight, electro-optical and infrared camera located on the bottom of the device.

“The Puma has day and night vision capabilities,” Schmitt said. “If we’re in a convoy to the next point, we can put the bird up, and advance our convoy and make sure we’re not walking into an ambush.”

Schmitt said it will improve their ability to get accurate fires out faster. 

“Part of the nature of calling in fire is sometimes the angle isn’t good for the observer,” Schmitt said. “If you put a Puma up in the air, you have a completely different perspective. This thing actually has a pretty impressively high operational ceiling.”

The Puma has a maximum altitude of 10,500 feet above sea level and an operational altitude of 500 feet above sea level.

“It has two different flight modes: manual and autonomous,” said Cpl. Martin Decos, an intelligence specialist with 1/12. “I’ll fly it manually and switch it to autonomous mode which from there I can set different waypoints.”

Decos and Schmitt both said the testing went well and the unit looks forward to incorporating it into future training.

“Our commanding officer thinks the Puma is an amazing tool,” Schmitt said. “He’s excited for the opportunities it will bring to the unit.”

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