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They called them “RPV” Remotely Piloted Vehicles

by Nov 10, 2019

One of Missouri’s Remotely Piloted Vehicles (RPV) launches from the fantail

The following is an account of service by LDCR Richard Bergren, former Officer in Charge (OIC) of Missouri’s Aviation Department in 1991:

“I was with the VC-6 UAV Detachment aboard USS Missouri during and after Operation Desert Storm.

The Pioneer Unmanned Air [Aerial] Vehicles were also called Remotely Piloted Vehicles (RPV) and in fact, that was the term we used throughout their time on the Battleships. We never referred to them as "drones".

Our primary purpose was to provide spotting service to the 16 inch guns and in that mission, we succeeded very well, turning those long range weapons into the largest target rifles in the world.

When a target was hit, we could immediately evaluate the damage and either hit it again, or move on to the next target.

This in contrast to the saturation bombardment tactics of WW II. Some of our targets [during Operation Desert Storm] were located in Kuwait, but most of them were on Faylaka Island. In the end, the entire Iraqi occupying force on Faylaka Island surrendered to a Pioneer RPV (Number 159) off the USS Wisconsin (BB-64). Those Iraqis knew exactly what the RPV was and how deadly it had proven to be.

VC-6 was a composite squadron home ported in Norfolk, VA. It was composed of officers and men from a wide range of aviation and surface communities. Besides the RPV's, they also operated remotely piloted surface ship targets and remotely piloted target drones.

VC-6 RPV detachments were first deployed aboard the USS Iowa (BB-61) and USS New Jersey (BB-62) in the late 1980's. Equipment placed on those ships included the UHF tracking and control antennas mentioned in your e-mails. They were located in the areas stated and covered with white domes [located just forward of the 08 level bridge, and the forward side of the aft stack].

Other RPV specific equipment installed on the battleships included tall metal poles and wires which were part of the net retrieval system we used when recovering the RPV after a mission or practice flight [located on the stern of the ship].

An RPV hangs from the recovery net on the stern of Missouri after returning from flight

Another bit of ship specific RPV equipment

which could be seen in photos just aft of the Number 3 (aft) gun turret was a row of six "blast boxes". These were steel containers which housed the RPV "bird boxes" where we stored the dismantled Pioneer RPV's. The bird box was about 8 feet in length and about four feet high and wide. It was made of three quarter inch plywood and painted olive drab.

“The steel blast boxes protected the aircraft and their wooden bird boxes from the extreme over pressures generated by the 16 inch guns. On one occasion a board Missouri, an extra, empty bird box had to remain outside the blast boxes. It was crushed like and eggshell when the gun was fired.

The last flight of a UAV/RPV from Missouri occurred in early December 1991 during our return from Hawaii. All RPV equipment was removed from both Wisconsin and Missouri just prior to their decommissioning.

Some equipment, like the white domes and the blast boxes remained with the ships or was removed in Norfolk and Long Beach respectively. I never saw it again. Other equipment was trucked to Naval Air Station, Patuxent River, Maryland where the VC-6 UAV Detachment was located.

There followed a period of time when various studies were done, and decisions made involving where the Pioneer UAV's would be assigned next. That is, what ship would be our next platform.

In the meanwhile, we operated the Pioneer in a land based mode, deploying to Korea for a short time in support of Exercise Ulchi Focus Lens. We also flew numerous training flights and demonstrated the system to numerous persons and organizations.

Eventually, it was decided that the Pioneer UAV system would be fitted to and deployed aboard LPD-4 class ships. The first of these was the USS Denver (LPD-9) home ported in San Diego, followed closely by the USS Shreveport (LPD-12) home ported in Norfolk, Va.

The same antennas, ground control systems, transmitters, launchers, etc. that were earlier on board the battleships were installed on the LPD's but it was soon realized that the net recovery system from the battleships would not be suitable and so a completely new and larger net system was developed and installed. The old battleship net system and poles were sent to Defense Reutilization Management Office (DRMO) at NAS Patuxent River, MD and from there most likely sold as scrap.

This occurred during the first deployment of the Pioneer system simultaneously on Denver and Shreveport - about September or October of 1993. I retired from the Navy in October 1994 and was the Officer in Charge of VC-6 UAV Detachments at the time.

The UAV Detachment continued in operation on the LPD class ships for some time after that. UAV detachments were decommissioned sometime around 2006 after taking part in the second Iraq war.”