Career Profile: Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Operator

U.S. Army soldier launches an RQ-11 Raven unmanned aerial vehicle.
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Every branch of service takes advantage of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) these days to extend their reach on the battlefield while limiting risk to life and limb. And though Marines must become commissioned officers to fly manned aircraft, enlisted Marines straight out of high school have an opportunity to fly cutting-edge aviation equipment -- even if only by remote -- as UAV operators in Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) 7314.

Duties and Responsibilities

The Marine Corps MOS Manual states that a UAV pilot "executes the proper techniques and procedures to maintain the planned flight profile of the UAV." Though the language is somewhat obscure, it seems to echo sentiments from Navy Times staff writer Andrew Tilghman who, in this November 2008 article on Navy UAV operators noted that unlike piloting "with a traditional joystick or throttle," UAV operators are there to monitor a pre-programmed flight plan and make adjustments as necessary, "fly[ing] by mouse."​

Central to the purpose of UAVs, operators are also responsible for operating sensor equipment remotely, monitoring and interpreting aerial camera imagery in order to gather intelligence. Though there's no mention of weapons systems for Marine UAVs in the MOS Manual, operators are required to understand and use "call for fire procedures" much the same as scout observers on the ground.

In layman's terms, that means supporting the grunts on the battlefield by identifying the enemy's map coordinates and passing them on to artillery, fighter planes, and other heavy hitters.

Military Requirements

Like all who hope to be Marines, UAV candidates must have a high school diploma (GEDs are rarely, if ever, accepted.) When taking the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) prior to signing a contract, enlistees need a general technical score of at least 105 to qualify for this MOS.

In addition, the Marine Corps MOS Manual specifies that to serve with UAVs, Marines must have normal color vision (necessary for interpreting remote visual imagery), pass the Navy's Class III Flight Physical standards, and demonstrate eligibility for a secret security clearance through a background check.

Education

After three months at Parris Island or San Diego, Marine UAV operators piggyback on the Army's training program at Fort Huachuca, Arizona. The UAV course, run by the Army's 2nd Battalion, 13th Aviation Regiment, lasts 21 weeks.

The course covers principles of flight, including Federal Aviation Administration standards. In addition to remote piloting, Marines may receive training on line-of-sight takeoff and landing procedures, qualifying them for the additional MOS designator 7316, External UAV operator (similar to the Navy's external UAV operator.) Marines are also taught how to gather and interpret aerial intelligence imagery.

Certifications

Unfortunately, the Marines don't have any nifty credentialing website like the Army and Navy, although one has to wonder if there might not be opportunities to achieve some of the same certifications that Navy Credentialing Opportunities On Line lists for its UAV sailors.

7314 also isn't on the list of MOS's eligible for journeyman status in the United Services Military Apprenticeship Program at this time. But UAV operations is a growing new field, so check back periodically if your heart is set on being a UAV Marine.