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A new unmanned aerial vehicle, the Integrator, is recovered using a mobile catcher wire instead of the traditional landing strip a sneak preview for Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadrons 2 and 3 at the VMU-3 airfield Jan. 22, 2012.

Photo by Cpl. Andrew Thorburn

Integrator Unleashed

27 Jan 2012 | Lance Cpl. Ali Azimi

From the time of spears and arrows to modern warfare today, as technology has progressed so has the way we fight. Unmanned aerial vehicles give our troops an extra edge on the battlefield.

“It’s important for the guys on the ground to be able to see over that wall that they’re about to go into and it keeps us from using manned vehicles and risking lives,” said Staff Sgt. Chad Olsen, squadron weapons and tactical instructor, VMU-2. “It’s the eyes in the sky”

The Naval Air Systems Command demonstrated the next model UAV to be incorporated into the Marine Corps at the Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron 3 airfield here Jan. 22, 2012.

Officials said they plan to have the RQ21A Small Tactical Unmanned Aerial System, better known as the Integrator, in production for the Marine Corps by fiscal year 2013.

It flew for the first time in a tactical environment in front of VMU-2 and VMU-3, two of its future operators.

The VMU-2 Marines, based out of Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C., Combat Center in support of Enhanced Mojave Viper. They got an unexpected treat when they found out the demonstration would take place on the same airfield they were operating on.

"We knew there’d be another UAV out here, but we didn’t expect it to be the Integrator,” said Olsen.

Coincidentally, the AAI RQ-7 Shadow, one of the current UAVs in operation, was also scheduled to run exercises alongside the Integrator, highlighting the crafts’ differences even more.

Visually, the Integrator is sleeker and features a flattened tail, versus the upward bent tail of the shadow.

“It’s awesome,” said Cpl. Juan Reyes, field radio operator, VMU-2, after seeing the Integrator for the first time. “It’s smaller and more tactical.”

The Shadow also requires a longer launching pad and creates a noticeably louder noise, while the Integrator’s launching pad is nearly half the size of the Shadow’s and the noise more muffled.

But what sets the Integrator apart from most UAVs is not the launch, it’s the recovery.

“The biggest thing is we’re not tied to the runway like previous tactical unmanned aerial systems,” said John F. Parks, deputy assistant program manager of logistics, PMA 263, NAVAIR.

The Integrator’s retrieval system combines the use of global positioning systems with the high tension cables.

The specially-made cable hangs from a 54-foot-tall receiver, attached at each end, with a differential GPS pad located directly below it. The UAV operator lines up Integrator’s GPS with the one on the ground. As the two sync, the wing hooks onto the rope and comes to a complete stop approximately 20feet from the ground.

The Integrator’s accelerometer senses the loss of forward momentum and shuts of the engine. The aircraft is lowered down by on a pulley system and disconnected from the cable.

Using the Integrator of landing will change the role of VMUs on naval ships. The Shadow can’t be recovered on ships because it could not land on the moving vessel. The Integrator will make that extra mobility possible.

 “It’s going to be an amazing capability for us with its size and being able to be deployed with the MEUs and flown off of ships,” Olsen said. “It’s going to expand our abilities exponentially.”

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Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms