The U.S. Air Force’s MQ-9 remotely piloted heavy combat aircraft for the first time participated in the exercise Red Flag 19-2 training exercise, according to 1st Lt Lee Lizotte.
This year Red Flag Alaska large scale realistic combat training marked the first time the MQ-9 remotely piloted aircraft participated.
Maintainers of the 174th Attack Wing, partnered with Airmen assigned to the North Dakota Air National Guard’s 119th Wing that also operates MQ-9 aircraft in Fargo, to deploy, assemble and operationally check the first MQ-9 aircraft within two days of their arrival by a C-17 from the 105th Airlift Wing, New York.
Simultaneously, other Airmen established and operationally checked the Ground Data Terminal antenna and tower for launch and recovery line of sight, as well as the mobile Ground Control Station. These items are critical for the control of MQ-9, flown remotely by pilots located back at Hancock Air National Guard Base in Syracuse, more than 4,000 miles away.
When the second aircraft arrived by truck, it was also assembled and readied for flight in just two days.
“Because of the way operations are for traditional drill status Guardsmen, this exercise provides an excellent opportunity to further their hands-on expertise with the airframe,” said Staff Sgt. Collin Izard, a 174th Attack Wing maintainer. “It also allows us to figure out how to operate on a much busier, more crowded flightline which differs from the one back in New York.”
The efficiency and hard work of these maintainers led to the first ever take-off of a remotely piloted MQ-9 Reaper from Eielson Air Force Base, said Lt. Col. Aaron Brown, 108th Attack Squadron director of operations.
“We conducted several test flights where we flew the MQ-9 locally before handing control off to the pilots back in New York,” Brown said.
“In the past, the MQ-9 hasn’t been heavily utilized in traditional air combat operations,” said Brown. “During RED FLAG, we’re trying to build interoperability between the platforms and showcase the MQ-9’s capabilities and how they can be integrated into the fight.”
A key role of the 174th Attack Wing, Brown said, is the ability to provide more detailed information on targets so the manned aircraft can receive a better view of the battlespace from a platform that has much more longevity in the area of operations.
“The MQ-9 also adds a lot of longevity because it can fly for nearly 24 hours non-stop and the intel it provides allows fighter pilots to use their fuel more efficiently,” said Brown.
The participation of the 174th Attack Wing in this year’s training exercise, alongside piloted F-16 Fighting Falcons, A-10 Thunderbolt IIs, KC-135 Stratotankers, Mitsubishi F-2s, C-130 Hercules, UH-60 Black Hawks and HH-60 Pave Hawks marked the first integration of the MQ-9 to train alongside other Air Force and international partners.
During the exercise, the Syracuse Operations and Maintenance Groups successfully flew 20 sorties for a total of over 120 hours and expended more than a dozen precision munitions, including nine GBU-12 inert bombs, four GBU-38 inert bombs, and four live Hellfire missiles.
When the exercise concluded, the maintainers disassembled and packed both airplanes and support equipment for the return trip to Syracuse.
This exercise provided an excellent training experience for 174th Attack Wing members as a whole, Brown said. The employment and integration of the 174th Attack Wing MQ-9 in this year’s training rewrote the book in total force combative tactics, he said.