A U.S. Air National Guard MQ-9 Reaper remotely piloted aircraft assigned to the 108th Attack Squadron out of Hancock Air Force Base, New York, join RED FLAG-Alaska realistic air combat training exercise for the first time.
RF-A 19-2 marks the first time MQ-9 Reapers flew out of Eielson AFB, but the twist is their pilots are more than 4,000 miles away at their home station, Hancock Air Force Base, New York.
“We conducted several test flights where we flew the MQ-9 locally before handing control off to the pilots back in New York,” said Lt. Col. Aaron Brown, 108th Attack Squadron director of operations. “We have had success and they will control the aircraft during the aerial operations throughout the exercise.”
Flying in RF-A 19-2 didn’t come easy though. Due to airspace restrictions, the 174th Attack Wing had to coordinate with the Federal Aviation Administration for nearly a year to receive authorization.
Brown said the MQ-9 has very strict FAA guidelines in the airspace, but it doesn’t infringe on their ability to participate in the exercise and to help build future air combat tactics.
“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.”
During the exercise, the MQ-9 is improving capabilities by providing detailed information on simulated targets so traditional aircraft pilots can acquire a well-rounded view of the battle field and build more effective plans.
“The MQ-9 also adds a lot of longevity because it can fly for nearly 24 hours non-stop and intel it provides allows fighter pilots to use their fuel more efficiently,” said Brown.
In addition to the benefits MQ-9 participation in RF-A brings to fighter pilots, the 108th ATKS remotely-piloted aircraft pilots in Syracuse will gain experience and learn tactics used in combat operations while also allowing 138th ATKS RPA pilots temporarily stationed at Eielson access to more continuous training outside of real-world combat operations, he said.
In addition to benefiting aircrew, RF-A provides great opportunities for ground and maintenance crews to improve their expertise and practice their operations in new and unfamiliar environments.
“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, 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.”
Throughout the two week exercise, both Brown and Izard hope to improve the readiness and lethality of the 174th ATKW while also showcasing the advantages the MQ-9 provides to air combat operations.