Marines step up their drone game with SkyTower-equipped MQ-9A training

Marines step up their drone game with SkyTower-equipped MQ-9A training


The United States Marine Corps (USMC) recently completed a training course focused on maneuvering. MQ-9A Block 5 Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS), also known as a Reaper drone.

But this was no ordinary drone pilot training.The Marines who participated are honored weapons and tactics instructor (WTI) Course 2-24a grueling seven-week program designed to develop elite instructors skilled in advanced air and ground tactics.

SkyTower I: Enhanced drone communications

Making the training, which was completed on April 20, 2024, even more interesting is the integration of General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc.’s (GA-ASI) SkyTower I pod. This USMC-specific payload is essentially a high-tech communications booster for the MQ-9A.

SkyTower I provides a commercial-grade Wi-Fi network and extends the reach of the Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF)’s existing network.

Think of it as a powerful signal repeater. This allows geographically dispersed Marine units to stay connected and share critical information.

This enhanced communications capability is a game changer for the Marine Corps. Imagine a scenario where a ground unit needs real-time information from a drone in the sky, but difficult terrain disrupts the normal signal.

The United States Marine Corps (USMC) recently MQ-9A Block 5 Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS), also known as a Reaper drone.

But this was no ordinary drone pilot training.The Marines who participated were honored weapons and tactics instructor (WTI) Course 2-24a grueling seven-week program designed to develop elite instructors skilled in advanced air and ground tactics.

SkyTower I: Enhanced drone communications

What makes this exercise, completed April 20, 2024, even more interesting is the integration of General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI) SkyTower I pods. This USMC-specific payload of his is essentially a high-tech communications booster for his MQ-9A.

SkyTower I provides a commercial-grade Wi-Fi network and extends the reach of the Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF)’s existing network.

Think of it as a powerful signal repeater. This allows geographically dispersed Marine units to stay connected and share critical information.

This enhanced communications capability is game-changing for the Marine Corps: Imagine a scenario where ground troops need real-time information from a drone in the sky, but difficult terrain causes regular signals to be lost.

SkyTower I bridges the gap, ensuring seamless communication and a more effective overall mission.

WTI Course: Developing Elite Drone Instructors

“Congratulations to all of WTI’s new recruits,” said Patrick Shortsleeve, GA-ASI vice president of Defense Strategic Development. “GA-ASI is proud to support the training of MAWTS-1 crews in the employment and utility of the MQ-9A platform, especially with our SkyTower capabilities.”

WTI courses are renowned for pushing participants to their limits, honing their tactical skills and developing cutting-edge aviation tactics.

Hands-on experience with the MQ-9A platform is a key part of the program and the integration of SkyTower I adds an entirely new dimension to the training.

These graduates will become the go-to experts within the squadron for using the MQ-9A Block 5. Their comprehensive training and expertise ensures that they can command and execute missions accurately and efficiently.

US Marine Corps MQ-9A Drone
A U.S. Marine Corps MQ-9A launches from Marine Corps Air Station Kaneohe Bay, June 21, 2023. (Image source: DVIDS)

Building a powerful drone force: MAGTF Unmanned Expeditionary (MUX) Program

This training is MAGTF Unmanned Expeditionary Force (MUX) program to achieve full operational capability (FOC) with the MQ-9A Block 5.

With 13 MQ-9A UAS already delivered and seven more in the field, the USMC is rapidly building a powerful unmanned aircraft force with the latest technology.

The integration of SkyTower I demonstrates the Marine Corps’ commitment to staying ahead of the curve in unmanned aerial combat.





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