Michigan Soldiers make first UAV Flight in Baltics

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LIELVARDE, Latvia — Latvian and Michigan National Guard Soldiers work together to launch the historic first Unmanned Aerial Vehicle flight into the Baltic skies at Lielvarde Air Base on the afternoon of May 15, 2014.

Latvian Armed Forces, providing aviation tower and runway support, assisted with the first flight of the RQ-7 Shadow Unmanned Aerial Surveillance aircraft by the Michigan Army National Guard Unmanned Aerial Surveillance platoon, B Company, Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 37th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, Military Intelligence Company (MICO).

The Lielverde Airfield Commander, Maj. N. Mercs said, “The cooperation between the American and Latvian Soldiers has been exceptional. This training will build on the Joint Terminal Attack Controller (JTEC) training we have implemented over the past few years. We are excited for how the Shadow will fit into our training.”

Warrant Officer 2 Jimmy Huck spoke with members of the Latvian Ministry of Defense (MOD) about how this is the first flight of a UAV in Latvia, but it is not the first time Latvian Soldiers have worked with UAVs. Huck said, “Our unit supported Latvian ground troops in 2012. The mountainous terrain in Afghanistan interferes with radio transmissions so we used our Shadow UAVs to relay signals from Latvian units in the field to higher headquarters, enabling them to maintain communications, despite the barriers of the terrain.”

Prior to launching the aircraft, members of the Latvian MOD staff were shown the control shelters. The operators and mission payload specialists fly the Shadow aircraft from the Humvee mounted shelters.

Latvian MOD media talked with Shadow platoon Soldiers before the aircraft was launched. Sgt. Jeffrey Smith said, “We use the aircraft to obtain intelligence, assess the situation and mark targets on the battlefield. The aircraft has a laser target designator that ground troops can see with night vision goggles, allowing them to view targets the Shadow pinpoints for them.”

“We have brought the aircraft to Latvia to integrate them into your training. This means that your soldiers will be able to use the video to see what the aircraft sees. Your intelligence officers will be able to send unmanned aircraft to a place on the battlefield and see what the situation is there,” said Lt. Col. Andrew Roberts of the Michigan Air National Guard.

Roberts went on to point out that the Shadow is more than a military resource. He explained how the aircraft may be used in a civil crisis situation where there is a natural disaster and it would jeopardize lives to send in a live person. He also explained how these training opportunities allow for both armies to fully realize the potential of the system.

The UAV platoon launched two aircraft Thursday and tested both control and launcher equipment, showing both systems to be mission ready. The successful flights have confirmed that the Shadow platoon will be able to perform its mission, supporting exercises Namejs, Flaming Sword and Saber Strike Exercise 14. These training exercises are a continuation of the 22 year state partnership between Michigan and the Republic of Latvia.

Story by Sgt. 1st Class Jim Downen and Lt. Col. John C. Hall