Preparing for tomorrow: VMU-3 ready for the MQ-9

23 Mar 2023 | Maj. Jordan Fox 1st Marine Aircraft Wing

Next month, Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron 3 (VMU-3) will receive its first MQ-9 remotely piloted aircraft. Since the final flight of its RQ-21 Blackjack last year, the squadron's training focus has transitioned to receiving and employing the MQ-9.

Lt. Col. Nick Law, the squadron’s commanding officer, knows how the arrival of the MQ-9 is a change of pace and has his sights set on getting his Marines and aircraft forward to support our allies and partners throughout the Indo-Pacific. “The Commandant has made it clear that we must focus on the Indo-Pacific region and leverage this new capability as a strategic advantage alongside our allies and partners,” he said. “The arrival and employment of the MQ-9 gives us the capabilities we need to conduct long-range sensing, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions in this critical area of responsibility.”

The MQ-9 is a remotely piloted aircraft capable of supporting a wide range of operations such as coastal and border surveillance, weapons tracking, embargo enforcement, humanitarian/disaster assistance, support of peacekeeping and counter-narcotic operations. The basic crew consists of a rated pilot to control the aircraft and command the mission, and an enlisted aircrew member to operate sensors and interpret the data received by the aircraft’s sensors.

To meet combatant commanders' requirements, VMU-3 will conduct maritime domain awareness, airborne early warning, airborne network extension, and electronic support. The MQ-9 delivers tailored capabilities using mission kits containing various sensor combinations. The MQ-9 baseline system carries a robust suite of visual sensors for intelligence gathering, surveillance and reconnaissance. The baseline components include infrared sensor, color, monochrome daylight TV camera, shortwave infrared camera, laser designator, and laser illuminator. The full-motion video from each of the imaging sensors can be viewed as separate video streams or fused and passed on to warfighters and decision makers.

As the day draws closer for the MQ-9’s arrival, the Marines of VMU-3 are working tirelessly to ensure they are ready to take on this modern capability. Pilots and Sensor Operators are studying flight manuals and honing their skills in the newly installed MQ-9 flight simulator. Maintainers are arranging their tools, updating software packages, and ensuring the hangar is in pristine condition. Other support personnel are making sure that all the necessary logistics and control measures are up to date and in place.

Despite the long hours, hard work, and months of anticipation, the sense of excitement is palpable. “We are on the cusp of a new beginning for VMU-3,” said Law. “The work we have put in to get to this point is going to pay dividends in the future. We know who is watching. VMU-3 has a critical mission to fulfill, and we are ready to meet any challenge that comes our way.”