The 163rd Reconnaissance Wing took part in the Ardent Sentry Exercise on May 7. This major exercise focused on defense support of civil entities during a crisis. The object of the exercise was to launch an MQ-1 Predator from Fort Polk, La., by the 147th Reconnaissance Wing, have it handed over to the 163d RW pilots located at March Air Reserve Base Calif., and patrol an area in Louisiana where a simulated hurricane has hit. Ardent Sentry marked the first time a Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) has flown in national airspace for a search and rescue mission exercise.
â€œThis is a new era in air operation, which RPAs are becoming more common,â€ said Maj. Dawn Junk, CONR 1AF, chief, Domestic Operations & Special Missions. â€œOne of the areas of interest for this exercise was to figure out the processes and procedures to incorporate RPAs into the national airspace safely and effectively.â€
Coordination across several agencies was required for an exercise of this magnitude. Air National Guard units and active duty Air Force components worked along with other agencies such as Department of Homeland Security, Federal Aviation Administration, Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation to test and prove that RPAs are indeed an asset during times of crisis in the national airspace.
â€œThis is one of the first times we have flown in the National Airspace on this scale. The 163d RW has the capability to assist other units in operations without any difficulty. What made this exercise a success was the fact that all entities, both civilian and military, were willing to help and willing to be flexible,â€ said Maj. Brandon Powell, lead pilot during the exercise.
During the exercise, Powell and Master Sgt. Matt Rose flew the MQ-1 Predator over the simulated hurricane stricken area, locating survivors and pointing out crucial obstacles to the civilian rescue groups on the ground.
â€œOne of the things we wanted to prove was that we could fly flawlessly in the NAS and we could provide live-feed capability to all the players involved, and we did exactly that,â€ said Major Todd Linton, director of operations, 163d RW Formal Training Unit.
â€œWe bring to the table the capability to provide live, full motion video to first responders on the ground during a natural disaster, or any stateside emergency. We can loiter for extensive amounts of time continually providing situational awareness to assist in saving lives.â€
Lt. Col. Matthew Dutkiewicz, commander, 163d RW FTU, said, â€œWhat this exercise helped us establish was melding the capabilities of the Department of Defense with the needs of civilian entities in times of a natural disaster or crisis. MQ-1 capabilities provide first responders instant ability to discern the needs of those they are trying to help.â€
Major Junk went on to say, â€œIf we continue showing our civilian counterparts that our efforts continually result in a success, when a real crisis does occur, we would have already established relationships to carry out a rescue mission. With the successful conclusion of Ardent Sentry 2012, both defense and civil authorities were able to walk away with lessons learned and accomplishments.
Col. Randall Ball, commander, 163d RW, said, â€œOur participation in Ardent Sentry 2012 demonstrated the capability to safely fly within the U.S. National Airspace System and provide persistent full motion video from Remotely Piloted Aircraft to Incident Commanders, First Responders and interagency partners combating national disaster.â€