The 556th Test and Evaluation Squadron at Creech Air Force Base, Nev., recently validated the MQ-9 Reaper’s agility and proved mission relevance to the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command’s Joint Force through their participation in the Valiant Shield exercise.
Valiant Shield provides a versatile venue to test current and new technologies and platforms through integration across U.S. forces. This marks the first time an Operational Test MQ-9 participated in an exercise of this magnitude.
The primary objectives of the MQ-9 OT team during the biennial event were to prove Reaper Agile Combat Employment in the Pacific Theater, integrate with the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense’s experimental division’s killchain acceleration effort, and test maritime capabilities and integration tactics. Additionally, they set out to evaluate long-range hellfire employment and assess an Electronic Support Measures pod, Command and Control Common Operating Picture integration, and the Cavok Tactical Situation Display for aircrew.
During the exercise the 556th TES conducted 24/7 operations for 19 days straight over an area spanning 9,000 miles; from Creech to three separate operating locations in the Pacific.
Aircrew conducted all sorties from Creech using Satellite Communications for all taxi and airborne procedures. The singular exception was a specific Line-of-Sight recovery test used to validate the Ruggedized Aircraft Maintenance Test Stand’s ability to take control and command the landing of an arriving lost-link aircraft. This test concluded by taxiing the aircraft back using the enhanced-taxi capability inherent in the new 2410 flight software version under control by the RAMTS.
“The ability for the plane to land itself lost-link was validated upon initial arrival to Andersen AFB with the crew on the RAMTS passively monitoring,” said Lt. Col. Michael Chmielewski, 556th TES commander. “Throughout the exercise, the RAMTS was the only equipment used to generate all sorties. No traditional Launch and Recovery equipment was used.”
A notable sortie that took place during the exercise included the MQ-9 RACE team’s ability to set up operations in Palau with 1.5 pallets of equipment and ten personnel. Utilizing a U.S. Marine Corps Forward Area Refueling Point, the team generated three sorties over the course of 28 hours with the average time on the ground just over an hour.
After the aircraft took-off on its final flight from Palau, the personnel and equipment were then loaded on a C-17, flown to Guam, and were used to land the same OT MQ-9 they originally launched from Palau when it returned from its sortie.
“The first-ever landing and departure of an MQ-9 unmanned aerial vehicle sends a clear message about our ability to ensure a free and open Indo-Pacific,” said Ambassador John Hennessey-Niland, U.S. Embassy Palau. “USINDOPACOM’s Valiant Shield 2022 exercise was a huge success, demonstrating America’s commitment and capability to defend Palau.”
The combination of MQ-9 persistence and multiple intelligence gathering sources and capabilities during mission execution proved valuable to the Joint Force in accelerating the killchain through the Find-Fix-Track phases.
One of the most prominent accomplishments for the MQ-9 community was the first-ever connection from an Electronic Support Measure pod to the C2 Common Operating Picture integration lab. Data collected by the pod was pushed to the theater common operating picture and the Air and Space Operations Center, connecting everyone on the network across the theater. Information from the C2 Common Operating Picture was also pushed to the MQ-9 ops cell and aircrew, enhancing target area awareness.
“The ESM pod and integration with a C2 Common Operating Picture are emerging capabilities that were assessed for MQ-9 utility in Valiant Shield,” said Chmielewski. “The ESM pod proved its ability to give the MQ-9 an all-weather, long-range sensor capable of finding, fixing, and tracking targets of interest to enhance situational awareness and provide actionable targeting solutions as part of the Joint killchain.”
Valiant Shield demonstrated the ability to use current capabilities to make the MQ-9 agile and mission relevant in USINDOPACOM by proving the MQ-9’s ability to fit into the ACE concept of employment in theater.
Applying RACE tactics today and not solely reserving them for future use in major combat operations creates opportunities to build partnership capacity and provide temporary operating locations, ultimately maximizing collection times in different portions of the vast Indo-Pacific Theater.
“Future capabilities, with continued development, show promise for automated features on the leading edge that will feed the battlespace picture, accelerate the killchain, and increase the targeting process lethality,” said Chmielewski.
Successful MQ-9 mission execution in Valiant Shield involved enterprise support from Air Combat Command, Pacific Air Forces, Air National Guard, Air Force Reserve Command, U.S. Marine Corps, and private sector organizations.