RPAs drive conversation at 2017 AFA Conference

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Airmen from Creech Air Force Base, Nev., and across the entire Air Force, attended the Air Force Association’s Air, Space and Cyberspace conference Sept. 18-20, at National Harbor, Md. In addition to recognizing superior leadership and outstanding contributions, speakers included Secretary of Defense James Mattis, Secretary of the Air Force Dr. Heather Wilson, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Dave L. Goldfein, Gen. Mike Holmes, commander of Air Combat Command and Col. Julian Cheater, 432nd Wing/432nd Air Expeditionary Wing commander.

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — Airmen from Creech Air Force Base, Nev., and across the entire Air Force, attended the Air Force Association’s Air, Space and Cyberspace conference Sept. 18-20, at National Harbor.

In addition to recognizing superior leadership and outstanding contributions, speakers included Secretary of Defense James Mattis, Secretary of the Air Force Dr. Heather Wilson, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Dave L. Goldfein, Gen. Mike Holmes, commander of Air Combat Command and Col. Julian Cheater, 432nd Wing/432nd Air Expeditionary Wing commander.

During the conference the Remotely Piloted Aircraft enterprise was the focus of a formal panel, titled “RPA Reset,” a capability display booth and was the center of many discussions.

Rapidly fielded and deployed, the MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper have been operating at surge capacity for over a decade. The Air Force is taking time and action to normalize the tempo to ensure the sustainability of this platform and community for years to come.

“We will build a sustainable enterprise,” said Holmes. “It will include the opportunity to dwell, another wing, more squadrons, formal training units and leadership opportunities.”

As part of the plan Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., was named the preferred location earlier this year with personnel beginning the transition next year.

The Air Force’s entire combat RPA inventory will transfer from a mix of MQ-1 and MQ-9s to an all MQ-9 force by Spring 2018.

Compatible components from the Predators will be recapitalized on Reapers, though the fate of the remaining Predators is yet to be decided.

In addition, all Reaper cockpit software will converge from multiple versions to one in the coming year. This will improve fleet management and better integrate displays.

With a focus to stabilize and grow the RPA enterprise, increased manning and training improvements will allow Airmen deliberate development opportunities while expanding current mission capabilities.

“An incredible team of Airmen have made huge strides over the last two decades, from arming the Predator to providing dominant persistent attack anywhere, any time,” said Cheater. “I have no doubt that we will continue to grow capabilities and innovate the future of airpower to hold our enemies at risk anywhere on the globe.”

RPA missions continue to be among the most requested capability of combat commanders at multiple locations throughout the world.

As a top combatant commander requirement for the foreseeable future, balancing strike capabilities across the range of military operations with finite resources remains a high-priority focus area for the Air Force.

“As the protectors of the high ground you unleash enormous capabilities on the low ground,” said Mattis. “To every Airmen and civilian serving today I ask you to protect the high ground. Be ready to fight and win.”