Camp Roberts shows off facility for unmanned aircraft training

Unmanned aircraft project and urban training center top more than $18 million in improvements

tstrickland@thetribunenews.comMay 13, 2014 

A new facility where soldiers can practice flying unmanned aircraft from the ground was unveiled Tuesday at Camp Roberts.

The $4.7 million project, completed in March, includes an operations center, maintenance hangar and a covered area to help shield operators from the harsh sun and weather. 

“The facility has been long-awaited,” 1st Lt. Jan Bender told The Tribune.

Its unveiling is part of a larger ribbon-cutting event that also showed off the camp's simulated urban training center, as well as a new dining room.

The unmanned aircraft fly at several thousand feet and are designed to transmit aerial footage to ground operators to help troops plan their next move in a variety of scenarios.

“If they were to go overseas, it helps give them visibility out on the battlefield. Stateside, these aircraft can be deployed to assess damage in a disaster response scenario,” Bender said.

The aircraft will be “set off on a ramp and catapulted into the sky. Then at elevation, (operators) can see for miles and miles,” he added.

The RQ-7B Shadow, as it is known in the National Guard, is about 11 feet long with a 14-foot wingspan and a propeller engine. It’s painted the color of the sky to help it blend in and can reach a maximum speed of 135 mph with a range of 68 miles. Several Shadow aircraft will occupy the new hangar.

Troops will use a lineup of the aircraft together, so one Shadow can be launched to relieve another in the air when it has to land to refuel.

“Then it gets back in the lineup. They rotate through them,” Bender said.

Known as the Tactical Unmanned Aircraft System Facility at the California National Guard base, the 10,000-square-foot complex is adjacent to the camp’s McMillan Airfield. It “takes advantage of Camp Roberts’ restricted military airspace and was designed to streamline the launch, recovery, maintenance and flight operations,” according to a news release. 

Previously, troops flew the aircraft from the shelter of a temporary tent at the camp, Bender said.

The new air facilities also were designed to meet environmentally friendly building standards. 

Elsewhere, the $11 million urban training facility, made up of 14 buildings to simulate a small town, provides soldiers with a fake church, cemetery, hotel, town hall and several walled compounds in which to train. The project was completed in February and has already hosted several armed forces units, including the 1st Marine Division, the news release said. That division is based at Camp Pendleton near Oceanside.

The new 8,600-square-foot dining hall can seat 300 people and cost $2.6 million. 

Congress approved the projects prior to 2007, and they were federally funded the fiscal year in which construction began, according to the release.

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