A 38-pound unmanned aerial vehicle with a 10- foot wing span takes center stage as being the last UAV to take off and land in Iraq.
Dubbed Speckles, the unmanned aerial vehicle system was a collaboration of three tiers, funded by Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization, built by BAE Systems in Phoenix, Ariz., and program managed by the Air Force Research Laboratory in 2009.
Prior to July 30, 2011, the JIEDDO Director, Lt. Gen. Michael Barbero, received a request from the Army to provide Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) support before troop withdrawal.
“JIEDDO’s job is to help our forces find ways to defeat improvised explosive devices being employed by enemy forces,” said Vince Parisi, chief for the Center for Rapid Product Development Air Force Research Laboratory. “AFRL is helping JIEDDO find solutions to this important need.”
Speckles is equipped with infrared sensors capable of assisting troops with patrol operations and route clearances.
Seventy-two days after JIEDDO requested AFRL’s help, the system was fully operational in Iraq with a contractor flight crew of three, and an AFRL Liaison Officer.
“Usually this UAV system is manned with a flight crew of three and one Air Force Liaison Officer, but due to the impending end of the war in Iraq the base was required to reduce personnel to only mission essential levels,” said Brendon Poland, LNO and Speckles crew member. “For this particular system we were only allowed three personnel on base, so I operated both in the capacity of the LNO and a crew member.”
According to Poland, they were designated as the last UAV mission to take off and land from the now, Iraqi-owned installation. The U.S. mission of their site was to maintain security on the main supply route until the last of the troops had withdrawn.
“After we landed we went over to the tactical operations center, composed of Army personnel, and were congratulated for being the last UAV to take off and land in Iraq,” said Poland. “It was somewhat surreal as we had been so focused on our operations that we hadn’t taken note of what we were actually taking part of. We were all [crew members] very excited to contribute to the security of the troops all the way to the end of the mission.”
According to Poland, on the last day of operations, there was a ceremony with the brigade and Iraqi leadership where the U.S. military signed over the site to the Iraqis.
After the U.S. mission was completed it was time to disassemble equipment. The group tore down and packed up within two hours.
“According to my notes, this was the UAV’s 23rd mission, and it performed flawlessly during the entire duration of the deployment and earned the nickname, ‘Old Faithful’,” said Poland.
Parisi said that as of a year ago the Speckles program has saved numerous lives and multi-million dollars worth of equipment for the military.
“This program is saving the taxpayers money, but most importantly, saving the lives of their loved ones,” said Parisi. “Speckle’s gives preliminary knowledge of where to patrol. Many times Speckles has been the reason for why troops look in a particular spot for IEDs and disarm them in a timely fashion.”
While the system is only temporarily being used by the Army, it has been influential in the ISR world in terms of helping complete its missions in Iraq.
“This event is definitively a success story; I’m happy to see AFRL collectively partnering with other military branches and industry to develop a program that saves lives. We are very proud of those you played a role in completing the mission successfully,” said Joe Sciabica, executive director of the Air Force Research Laboratory.
Overall, Poland believes his deployed experience is one that many others should have.
“I’m happy to have had my experience and be home with my family.
“I would advocate for anyone interested in supporting this type of Air Force mission and I will always speak positively of the Air Force’s role of supporting our airman,” he said.
During Poland’s deployment he grew to have a greater respect for the soldiers overseas.
“I felt a lot of gratitude toward soldiers I worked with who had a much harder job then I did. The excitement of supporting the war fighter directly drove me to work many hours more than I was required to in the last weeks, but due to the nature of the work it was much more of a joy then a burden,” said Poland.