Marine Infantry Squads May Get Their Own Drone Operators

A Marine with Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, assists his squad by providing reconnaissance with an "Instant Eye" unmanned aerial system at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif., Aug. 5, 2016. The commandant is considering creating a new position within Marine infantry squads dedicated to flying unmanned aerial vehicles and managing information. (Photo by Julien Rodarte/U.S. Marine Corps)A Marine with Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, assists his squad by providing reconnaissance with an "Instant Eye" unmanned aerial system at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif., Aug. 5, 2016. The commandant is considering creating a new position within Marine infantry squads dedicated to flying unmanned aerial vehicles and managing information. (Photo by Julien Rodarte/U.S. Marine Corps)

The commandant of the Marine Corps is looking at the possibility of creating a new position within Marine infantry squads dedicated to flying unmanned aerial vehicles and managing information.

Gen. Robert Neller told an audience at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., this week that the creation of an assistant squad leader position to take on these jobs was under consideration as the Marine Corps looks to reorganize the force for future fights.

Military.com first reported in April that a new assistant squad leader job, designed to build in more leadership at the smallest unit levels, was one of the initiatives being evaluated under a new plan called Force 2025.

Neller has frequently spoken about how he wants to integrate small UAVs — possibly cheap, commercially available quadcopters — into rifle squads to enhance situational awareness and improve unit effectiveness.

He said Tuesday that the Corps’ designated experimental infantry unit, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines, had recently tested out even more squad-level technology during the Rim of the Pacific exercise, which recently concluded in Hawaii and California.

“One of the squad leaders out there, he had a tablet that folded in and out of his battle rig,” Neller said. “He had the ability to do messaging, call for fire … talk to his higher headquarters. There was this 25-year-old guy showing me all this stuff where I would probably break it if I touched it. But to him, it was like, ‘I can do this.'”

As the Marine Corps seeks to take advantage of today’s technology, brass are also looking at ways to reconfigure units for maximum effectiveness.

Neller said he was operating under the assumption that the Corps would have to stay at its current force strength of 182,000 for the next few years.

“What’s inside the infantry battalions is going to be a little bit different,” he said. “We want to be sure that we maintain capacity and capability … first, do no harm. But it will be different.”

It’s not clear how assistant squad leaders might be trained or equipped or at what point a decision would be made regarding the position’s creation.

Neller has said he wants to increase the number of Marines in information operations and cyber jobs, scaling back junior infantry numbers if necessary to accommodate this growth.

Meanwhile, the Marine Corps has also made a point of investing in its infantry squad leaders, offering a special professional development program and a new military occupational specialty with bonuses and promotion opportunities to nurture top talent at the squad level.

About the Author

Hope Hodge Seck
Hope Hodge Seck is a reporter at Military.com. She can be reached at hope.seck@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.