A small group of four Marines assigned to Task Force Southwest, the 300-man unit scheduled to deploy to Helmand province in Afghanistan this spring, recently practiced flying a small drone called Instant Eye at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.
The Instant Eye is a small portable quadcopter drone capable of vertical take off.
"We can take off in any direction we want and we can hover if we need to, which is a significant difference when it comes to maneuverability. That technology is great," said Shaun Sorensen, an unmanned aerial vehicle instructor.
The small size of the drone will provide added capabilities to Marines deploying to Afghanistan in the spring: the ability to fly up and over walls, to hover over berms and rooftops, will provide early warning and detection of enemy forces or potential danger spots to Marines on patrol or for their Afghan partners they will be training and advising.
"We can send this thing ahead and it can look for us," said Cpl. Isaac Brown, an intelligence analyst assigned to Task Force Southwest. "We don't have to send Marines not knowing what's on the other side of any obstacle."
The Marines also honed night-flying skills during the training evolution, maneuvering the tiny drone around obstacles and barriers.
"The Instant Eye is going to be a great tool for operations in Afghanistan; it allows us to go places we wouldn't necessarily want to for our first look," Brown said. "These systems are going to be invaluable to force protection."
Announced in January, the 300-person task force will train and advise the Afghan army 215th Corps and 505th Zone National Police. "The Marine Corps has deep experience in Helmand. They have a lot of skin in the game. They did a great job down there," Gen. John Nicholson, commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, told senators last week when questioned about the return of Marines to the volatile province during a hearing on Capitol Hill.
Shawn Snow is the senior reporter for Marine Corps Times and a Marine Corps veteran.