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    U.S. Marine Corps Spearheads Military Transformation with Advanced MQ-9 Unmanned Systems

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    RAF Reaper MQ-9 Remotely Piloted Air System” by Defence Images is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

    The U.S. Marine Corps is at the forefront of a significant military transformation, leveraging the capabilities of the MQ-9A Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) to redefine warfare in the modern era.

    MQ-9 Reaper” by Chris Hunkeler is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

    Adapting to new challenges and theatres of conflict, the Marines are embracing lighter, more expeditionary combat strategies, a pivot from their historically heavier, armor-intensive doctrines.

    MQ-9 Reapers Prepare to Launch” by New York National Guard is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

    The MQ-9A, and its newer variants, the MQ-9B SkyGuardian and SeaGuardian, provide unparalleled intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities, essential for maintaining domain awareness and ensuring mission success in contested areas.

    General Atomics MQ-9 ‘Reaper’” by aeroman3 is licensed under CC PDM 1.0

    These UAS platforms are emblematic of the Corps’ evolution, capable of extended flights and soaking up information across vast distances.

    General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper” by cclark395 is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

    “The options are endless,” says Major Shane R. Gentry, an MQ-9A pilot with Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron (VMU) 3, as he highlights the aircraft’s role in providing wide-area surveillance and information sharing.

    MQ-9 Reaper ( Predator B) drone at Creech Air Force Base in Indian Springs, Nevada” by A Train is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

    The MQ-9A’s ability to maintain target custody and provide early warnings adds to the Corps’ agility and responsiveness in a crisis.

    A U.S. Air Force MQ-9 Reaper at MCAS Kaneohe Bay during RIMPAC 2022” by U.S. Indo-Pacific Command is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

    Beyond the Marines’ enthusiastic adoption, the MQ-9B variants have garnered significant interest globally, due to their all-weather resilience, lightning protection, and improved cold weather performance.

    U.S. Air National Guardsmen prepare an MQ-9 Reaper to launch” by #PACOM is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

    These characteristics have earned the MQ-9B high versatility, with automated takeoff and landing capabilities that enable operations across a diverse array of airfields.

    MQ-9 Takes Flight Over Central New York” by New York National Guard is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

    Moreover, the MQ-9B’s impact extends beyond the military sphere. For instance, the Japan Coast Guard utilized an MQ-9B SeaGuardian to detect and issue warnings about an underwater volcano eruption, while the Indian Navy leveraged the aircraft for expanded patrol and maritime security, resulting in the dramatic rescue of mariners from a hijacked ship.

    MQ-9 Reaper during Exercise Northern Strike 2019” by Air National Guard is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

    In contrast to the technological innovation represented by the MQ-9 variants, the U.S. Navy’s recent budget proposal to fund the construction of only one Virginia-class submarine this fiscal year has sparked concern among more than 100 lawmakers, who see it as contrary to the National Defense Industrial Strategy.

    General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper – 42d Attack Squadron” by TDelCoro is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

    The bipartisan group fears that the Navy’s decision could harm the submarine industrial base and compromise the country’s undersea advantage in the long term.

    MQ-9 Reaper pilot and MQ-9 sensor operator stand alongside their aircraft during Singapore Airshow 2020” by U.S. Indo-Pacific Command is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

    It’s a critical moment for the Navy, as it faces scrutiny from Congress regarding its FY25 budget request and the potential effects on the industrial base.

    General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper – 42d Attack Squadron” by TDelCoro is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

    Industry leaders, such as Phebe Novakovic, CEO of General Dynamics, caution against the repercussions of reduced procurement on the supply chain, emphasizing the importance of sustaining two Virginia-class submarines per year.

    MQ-9” by JoeM5952 is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

    While the U.S. Marine Corps presses forward with innovations in UAS technology, crucial decisions on traditional maritime capabilities hang in the balance.

    MQ-9 4” by JoeM5952 is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

    The contrast between embracing new technology and maintaining established programs reflects the broader challenges facing today’s military strategists and policymakers, as they navigate the evolving landscape of global security and technological advancement.

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