BARGONI, Kenya -- Marines from the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit's Battalion Landing Team 2/2 demonstrated a remarkable asset here, today, to personnel from the Kenyan Army.
The Marines showed the Kenyans the capabilities and value of the Short Range Unmanned Arial Reconnaissance Vehicle known as the "Dragon Eye."
The Dragon Eye is a small, battery powered aircraft which resembles many of the commercially available radio-control model airplanes available on the market.
The resemblance is only superficial, however, as the Kevlar-coated airplane is not made for the weekend hobbyist, but for a serious role on the battlefield as an asset in the Marine Corps inventory.
Lieutenant Colonel Tom Chepkuto, battalion commander, Kenyan Army, 15th Rifles, said he was impressed by the system.
"I'm impressed it can be operated by only three people, and has so many capabilities," he said.
Corporal James H. Wallenstein, a Forward Observer in BLT 2/2, is a member of the team which operates the machinery.
He said the Dragon Eye is a huge asset to any unit fortunate enough to operate one.
"It is invaluable," he said, "It gives the troops on the deck an advantage over the enemy."
Wallenstein, a combat veteran, said he sees nothing but benefits from the system.
"Speaking as an infantryman this is an excellent piece of gear," he said, "it gives us near real-time information whenever we want it."
However, its usefulness is not limited to the infantry.
"Speaking as a forward observer," he said, "The center-point of the camera gives us a grid and coordinates that we can call fire into."
The Dragon Eye system is man-portable; everything fits in a small pack that a Marine carries on his back, and the UAV itself weighs five-pounds with its battery.
The UAV is controlled by a laptop computer included with the system. The operator programs a pre-planned route into the computer aboard the UAV, and once launched, the UAV flies autonomously at 35 miles-per-hour for up to 45 minutes, then lands itself.
The plane itself is equipped with two cameras, one in the nose and one in the side.
The system includes a variety of cameras to adjust for conditions, and they are interchangeable on a moment's notice.
The cameras project images to the laptop computer, and also a pair of glasses which have computer screens inside them.
Wallenstein said it can be programmed for almost any mission a unit may require.
"We can have it do route reconnaissance, fly in a circle keeping its camera on an area, fly security keeping its cameras outboard, or follow a road ahead of a convoy to give security," he said.
Wallenstein said he looks forward to seeing it operationally in-theatre.
"It's a really great piece of gear," he said. "It's unlimited in value."
The Marines and Sailors of the 26th MEU are in Kenya conducting bilateral training with elements of the Kenyan armed forces during Exercise Edged Mallet 2007.
The 26th MEU is comprised of the Command Element; the Ground Combat Element, Battalion Landing Team 2/2; the Logistics Combat Element, Combat Logistics Battalion-26; and the Aviation Combat Element, Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron-264 (Reinforced).
The 26th MEU, along with the ships of the Bataan Strike Group, USS Bataan (LHD-5, USS Oak Hill (LSD-51), USS Shreveport (LPD-12), USS Nitze (DDG-94), USS Vella Gulf (CG-72), USS Underwood (FFG-36) and USS Scranton (SSN-756), deployed in early January on a routine, scheduled deployment.
For more information, news, and video, please visit www.usmc.mil/26thmeu