348th RS enters strategic partnership to advance unmanned aviation across DOD

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt. Brandon Shapiro
  • 319th Reconnaissance Wing

As the world rapidly changes, the United States must safeguard its interests and ideals against near-peer threats and competitors, especially Russia and China. This cannot be achieved alone; instead, the U.S. must fortify relationships with existing partners, while also building anew.

Embracing this idea and aligning it with the strategic priorities outlined in the 2022 National Defense Strategy is Cmdr. Brian X. Conlan, the commanding officer of the Navy’s first unmanned aviation squadron, Unmanned Patrol Squadron 19 (VUP-19).

Conlan formed the Joint Unmanned Interagency Collaboration Enterprise (JUICE), a group from some of the Department of Defense’s most innovative units, organizations, and individuals in the field of remote aviation and engineering.

“The group was developed with two simple goals in mind: one, to speak with a shared voice, and two, to establish a space that facilitates crosstalk amongst (unmanned aviation) defense partners alike,” Conlan said.

“The struggles of now aren’t that different from those of Nimitz and MacArthur,” said Conlan referring to General Douglas MacArthur and Admiral Chester Nimitz, who collaborated during WWII in the Southwest Pacific. “The advantage of today is our ability to rapidly assemble, easily collaborate, and swiftly advance our approach.”

More than a dozen strategic discussions took place during JUICE’s most recent collaboration May 16 at Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Florida. Representatives from NASA, the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Space Command, and service-specific organizations, including the 348th Reconnaissance Squadron from Grand Forks AFB, briefed real-world application of their respective platform.

Topics ranged from cross-cue opportunities, theatre operations, communication link limitations, department-specific constructs, and lessons learned. Breakout sessions gave individual units and organizations time to delve deeper into areas that related to one another.

Specifically taking advantage of the ability to crosstalk were the 348th RS and VUP-19, both unmanned aviation squadrons that fly variations of Northrop Grumman’s high-altitude, long-endurance, remotely piloted aircraft. Given that the 348th RS has been operating the RQ-4 Global Hawk Block 40 in wartime for nearly a decade, and the MQ-4C Triton Block 50 is the Navy’s newest intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance maritime asset, much was shared.

“Mutually-beneficial alliances and partnerships are an enduring strength for the United States and are critical to achieving our objectives,” said Lt. Col. Michael Dunn, the director of operations at the 348th RS. “The pact between the 348th RS and VUP-19 brings an invaluable amount of operational and strategic capabilities to the RPA community as a whole.

“Collaborations like the one we have in JUICE advance the field of unmanned aviation by leaps and bounds. We must continue to leverage such partnerships to optimize and synergize DOD efforts.”

JUICE’s approach directly ties into NDS goal advancement through integrated deterrence, campaigning, and actions that build enduring advantages. With the growing multi-domain and competitor threat posed by the People’s Republic of China and Russian-imposed challenges throughout Europe, the DOD must be prepared to prevail in conflict and technological supremacy.