Along with a base game warden, U.S. Marines launched an RQ-20 Puma unmanned aircraft system as part of Operation Buck Rogers on Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California, December 3, 2019.
Operation Buck Rogers is an annual survey to count the wildlife, more specifically the mule deer population.
“I am pleased with the results of Operation Buck Rogers. We are paving the way to do things like counting deer, finding lost Marines, in a way that is faster, cheaper and safer.” Maj. Julio Gonzalez, the regional ASCO and the ATC training and readiness officer with Marine Corps Installations West, MCB Camp Pendleton
“We used to do this survey by helicopter and it’s expensive and it is hazardous,” said Michael Tucker, a game warden with MCB Camp Pendleton. “The leading cause of death for wildlife biologists is low-elevation helicopter surveys. Camp Pendleton is pioneering a way where we can use (unmanned aerial vehicles) to count the deer so we don’t have to get in a helicopter and fly these low-elevation surveys.”
Prior to using the RQ-20 Puma, helicopters would fly precariously close to the ground, making it next to impossible for the pilots to safely navigate the land and possible obstacles. To decrease the challenge of conducting wildlife analyses, officials have been thinking about new ways to complete these surveys safely.
“This is important because in the Western United States mule deer are on the decline, so we see fewer and fewer of them every year,” said Tucker. “They are an important species, they manage the vegetation, they’re part of the food web, they’re the primary source of food for mountain lions.”
The ecosystem on Camp Pendleton is monitored and maintained by the game wardens on base. With the various natural disasters and rigorous military training that occur on Camp Pendleton, it is essential to keep track of the wildlife over the years. Game wardens have to ensure the wildlife is not being affected in a negative manner. Without the deer, natural ecosystems on Camp Pendleton will fall apart.
Along with counting the wildlife, Operation Buck Rogers organized a scenario where a Marine was ‘lost’ in the field and the RQ-20 Puma was used to search for the Marine. A lost Marine is a real situation that the base needs to be prepared incase a Marine is lost in the vast training areas of Pendleton. With the use of the RQ-20 Puma, the scenario was successful and the Marine was found.
“The role of the lost Marine was to simulate a scenario that we’ve had at least a couple of times aboard the base,” said Maj. Julio Gonzalez, the regional airspace coordinator and the air traffic control training and readiness officer with Marine Corps Installations West, MCB Camp Pendleton. “Marines are moving in the field, they’re doing combat readiness exercises and folks get separated, just like they do in real life.”