Lynchburg battalion builds solid UAS program

A Soldier of Lynchburg-based 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team launches a Raven unmanned aerial vehicle April 11, 2015, at Fort Pickett, Va. The Ravens are a vital commanders tool on the battlefield available to all infantry companies in the brigade by conserving combat power and reducing risk to Soldiers. (National Guard photo by Sgt. JoAnna Greene/Released)

A Soldier of Lynchburg-based 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team launches a Raven unmanned aerial vehicle April 11, 2015, at Fort Pickett, Va. The Ravens are a vital commanders tool on the battlefield available to all infantry companies in the brigade by conserving combat power and reducing risk to Soldiers. (National Guard photo by Sgt. JoAnna Greene/Released)

STAUNTON, Va. — Over the years Soldiers of the Lynchburg-based 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team have built a solid program with their Raven unmanned aerial system. The Raven is a lightweight aircraft designed for low-altitude surveillance and reconnaissance intelligence. It replaces the need for putting forward reconnaissance troops, conserving combat power and reducing risk to Soldiers. Each maneuver company within the battalion is capable of launching these Ravens that relay realtime battlefield data to the commander.

“As a maneuver commander, I get immediate feedback of what’s going on in the battle space as opposed to relying on a higher level intelligence surveillance reconnaissance asset,” said Lt. Col. Mike Martin, commander of 1st Battalion.

The system is comprised of a pilot utilizing a controller to fly the aircraft and another operator manning the mission operating terminal. The terminal can see mission data, air data, maps, and see what the aircraft is seeing. Another terminal can be set up within the digital footprint for the company commander to see that information. The system can also be linked to a central operating system for the next command level.

“We’ve spent a lot of time developing our program and the operators are getting a lot more confident with the system,” said Martin. “The more you use it, the more creative you can get with employing it. Defensively, we use it for early warning to determine approach march of the enemy. Offensively, we can recon an objective before we hit it to determine what the enemy’s situation is. In a movement to contact, it allows us to see the enemy before he sees us and we can maneuver more quickly.”

Launching these unmanned aircrafts require certified operators who have completed a two-week residence course at Fort Benning, Ga. Being a Raven operator is a very demanding additional duty for an infantryman that requires continuous training and flight times. Every 150 days they need to fly a 15-minute flight with a successful launch and landing and every 60 days they need to spend 15 minutes on a simulator, which can be done at home station.

Each of the flight training missions must be overseen by a master trainer, who must attend an additional three-week school. Staff Sgt. Ross Holdclaw is the master trainer for 1st Battalion’s Raven program, in addition to his primary duty as a squad leader in Company B.

“Even though it’s not easy, these operators welcome the additional duty,” said Holdclaw. “Who doesn’t want to fly a remote control airplane? Once you do it you realize it is pretty cool and you want to keep doing it.“

“It’s absolutely a critical piece of equipment. To the battalion, it’s our most valuable, long-range reconnaissance asset, so it deserves to be fully manned, staffed, and resourced. Without it we go back to putting Soldiers within a few hundred meters of each other before we decide how we’re going to fight.”