USMC performs first operational MQ-9A flight in Middle East

Pilots and sensor operators from the Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron 1 (VMU-1) ‘Watchdogs' have conducted the first operational flight of an MQ-9A Reaper unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV) in the Middle East.

The aircraft – produced by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc (GA-ASI) – successfully completed its first operational flight with the service on April 20. Crews from VMU-1 took control of the company-owned/company-operated (COCO) MQ-9A to support forward deployed Marines. The milestone comes just after the service surpassed 7,000 hours of COCO flight operations since the contract began in September 2018.

MQ-9A [GA-ASI] #1

David R Alexander, president of GA-ASI, said: “This achievement represents a unique milestone and example of the [USMC] legacy of innovation… As a partner with the [service], we look forward to expanding the role of medium-altitude, long-endurance (MALE) [UCAVs] in support of maritime littoral missions.”

VMU-1 leases MQ-9A Reaper UCAVs to fulfil its intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capability requirements in Afghanistan. The company has been working alongside the USMC and the ‘Watchdogs' as the service transitions from the COCO contract into a government-owned/government-operated (GOGO) contract in the coming year. This will fulfil the service’s requirement for a persistent ISR with strike capability.

Going forward, the unit will act as the testbed and incubator in providing critical information, lessons learned, requirements, tactics, techniques and procedures to aid the USMC’s efforts for the successful acquisition and fielding the Marine Air-Ground Task Force Unmanned Aircraft System Expeditionary Group 5 capability.