As MQ-1 Predators transition from the Air Force’s active-duty aircraft inventory, they are being replaced downrange by the newly upgraded “Block 5” MQ-9 Reapers.
This enables combatant commanders’ uninterrupted persistent attack and reconnaissance capabilities. The recent upgrades include updated software and increased flight range.
Airmen at Creech Air Force Base, Nev., are working to make the transition a smooth one as they continue overseeing the shipment process for a total of 16 Block 5s which will be delivered to various areas of responsibility.
“The recent [ongoing] shipments of MQ-9s downrange are significant as they involve the latest version of the MQ-9 Reaper, the Block 5 variant, which flew its first successful combat mission on June 23, 2017 in support of Operation Inherent Resolve,” said Maj. Seth, 432nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron commander.
Changes to the Air Force’s first remotely piloted aircraft, the MQ-1, came after aircrew and ground forces alike identified the need for upgraded capabilities to ensure successful missions downrange.
Modifications were made to ensure that the Air Force continued to provide kinetic effects while saving lives downrange with the new Block 5, which has a three to four times longer range capability compared to its predecessor, the MQ-1.
“Last month, both Creech and Holloman were tasked to standup MQ-9 Block 5 operations at two geographically separated locations in Southwest Asia,” said Seth.
This phase of the Air Force’s transition process began on July 25 of this year and has led to the current shipment of 10 MQ-9s, meeting the requirement for uninterrupted support.
“As far as the equipment and aircraft go, Creech is the hub for consolidating, packing and deploying the aircraft and the equipment to both sites,” said Seth.
In total, 16 MQ-9s will make their debut downrange by the end of 2017. The recent Block 5 MQ-9 aircraft and equipment move was the largest of its kind, weighing approximately 90 tons.
Accomplishing this move was no easy task and requires a joint effort of several maintenance, logistics and airlift squadrons from the 432nd Wing, the 99th Air Base Wing, Nellis AFB and the 21st Airlift Squadron loadmasters from Travis AFB, Calif.
“The actual unpacking and repacking process requires around 28 Airmen across two shifts to complete,” said Tech. Sgt. Jesse, 432nd AMXS Reaper Aircraft Maintenance unit flight line expeditor.
To ensure the aircraft operates as intended prior to shipment, the MQ-9s must be unpacked, assembled and inspected for operational readiness before they are deployed.
“The aircraft underwent local retrofits following unpack, and were flown locally to ensure combat readiness prior to being repacked for shipment,” said Seth. “This was vital to ensuring fast transition and buildup at the deployed locations, without impacts to the Air Tasking Order.”
Leadership commended the Airmen of the 432nd AMXS on their ability to facilitate MQ-9 pre-deployment maintenance while completing daily support functions for the local flying mission.
“We are very experienced with the validation process,” Jesse said. “Our maintainers are knowledgeable, skilled and motivated to ensure we send a quality product downrange. I am proud of the work we do and the Airmen I lead.”
In total, approximately 90 Airmen will be continuously deployed to three geographically separated locations in the coming months to support MQ-9 combat operations abroad.
“We’re [Airmen are] the ones tying everything together to make sure the mission is accomplished,” said Senior Airman Stephen, 432nd Maintenance Group unit deployment manager.
Enabling RPA operations across the globe requires 24-hour support from the men and women of the 432nd WG/432nd AEW to maintain and transfer RPA assets wherever they’re needed.
“Our RPAs are the most demanded weapons systems by our combatant commanders because of the ISR and precision strike capabilities that they provide,” said Seth. “The RPA enterprise’s world-class Active Duty, Guard, partner nation, civilian and contract personnel meet critical requirements in every theater 24/7, 365 days per year.”