Photo Information

Sgt. Dale P. Richardson, noncommissioned officer in charge of Battery A, 3rd Low Altitude Air Defense Battalion, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, I Marine Expeditionary Force, receives a radio report from LAAD gunners during the firing exercise March 13, 2017, at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif. The exercise allowed Marines to use stinger launch simulators in conjunction with real aircraft acting as targets. (Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. A. J. Van Fredenberg)

Photo by Lance Cpl. Anthony Vanfredenberg

Feel the Sting

21 Mar 2017 | Lance Cpl. Anthony Vanfredenberg I Marine Expeditionary Force

Marines conducted a field exercise using stinger missile simulators at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California March 13, 2017.

Marines with 3rd Low Altitude Air Defense Battalion, 3rd Marine Air Wing, I Marine Expeditionary Force, conducted their exercise using stinger launch simulators in conjunction with real-world aircraft acting as targets.

Two Marine helicopters conducted real flight patterns and reacted to the Marines’ attempts to simulate engaging them with missiles.

The two helicopters included a UH-1N Venom and an AH-1Z Viper Super Cobra, both capable of engaging targets with machine guns, rockets and missiles.

“We are getting support from the air,” said Sgt. Dale P. Richardson, noncommissioned officer in charge of Battery A.

He said the difference between using simulated aircraft and actual helicopters piloted by Marine aviators is quite decisive when it comes to creating a sense of realism.

“We actually have a target,” Richardson said. “It’s a living, breathing target. It will use its tactics to attack us, so we get to practice against something that will adapt to us and our tactics. If they fly over us and see our position, they will come at us from a different angle.”

The addition of Marine aviators with operational experience adds a new dimension that computer simulation alone can’t provide.

“In the past when we have done this, we would take out our missile simulator,” said Richardson. “There is no audible pop, there is nothing that ejects from the tube, so the pilots would not know who engaged first. With this exercise, we have implemented the stinger launch simulator, so, when my team goes to engage the pilot, there is an audible pop, a tube ejects and it alerts the pilot that they have been hit. It is good for our gunners, because it is more realistic in comparison to our real missiles.”

The stinger missile was introduced to the unit in the mid-1970’s. It was one of the first low altitude ground-to-air missiles of its time. According to the unit’s history, “To date, the U.S. military has fielded four variants of the Stinger, the latest model, the Stinger-Reprogrammable Micro Processor Block I, is employed today by the Marines of 3rd LAAD Bn.”

LAAD gunners are required to master their weapon systems, have the ability to recognize the difference between friendly and enemy aircraft and know how to employ their capabilities. This knowledge allows the Marines to properly identify and understand how to engage the targets.

With the ability to destroy enemy aircraft from locations behind enemy lines, LAAD is a key part of I MEF’s defensive strategy, Richardson said.

According to the unit’s official webpage, it “traces its roots back to the defense battalions of World War II. In 1939, Marine Commandant Maj. Gen. Thomas Holcomb formed four defense battalions. These battalions consisted of three anti-aircraft batteries, three seacoast batteries, and a ground and anti-aircraft machine gun battery. At Guadalcanal on Aug. 7, 1942, the 3rd Defense Battalion landed amongst the first waves of the 1st Marine Division.  Later defense battalions employed as perimeter security at Henderson Airfield and repulsed several Japanese counter-attacks.”

Shortly after the Sep. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, Marines with 3rd LAAD were again called to action. The unit was deployed in Operations Desert Shield, Desert Storm, Safe Departure, Stabilize, Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom.

3rd LAAD continues to train and prepare for I MEF’s global expeditionary operations.

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