Block 5 MQ-9 debuts in combat
By Senior Airman Christian Clausen, 432nd Wing/432nd Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
/ Published June 29, 2017
CREECH AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. (AFNS) -- The latest version of the MQ-9 Reaper, the Block 5 variant, flew its first successful combat mission June 23, 2017, in support of Operation Inherent Resolve.
The aircrew flew a sortie of more than 16 hours with a full payload of weapons including GBU-38 Joint Direct Attack Munitions and AGM-114 Hellfire missiles. During the mission, the crew employed one GBU-38 and two Hellfires while providing hours of armed reconnaissance for supported ground forces.
“Working in conjunction with coalition joint terminal attack controllers, other MQ-9 aircraft and crews, our aircrews employed two Hellfires and one GBU-38,” said Maj. Dan, the 432nd Wing director of operations. “All three strikes met the ground force commander’s intent and destroyed two defensive fighting positions, two vehicles and one mortar tube.”
The Block 5 MQ-9 is equipped with improved electrical and communications systems which provides better software and hardware upgrades for future operations providing dominant persistent attack and reconnaissance to joint force commanders. The aircraft must also be flown with the new Block 30 cockpit that required different training for the aircrews.
While employing weapons from a new aircraft flown from a new cockpit is a historic milestone, the aircrew who flew the mission were humbled by the experience.
“(This strike) was no different than employing weapons off the previous version of the MQ-9,” said Maj. Chad, a 432nd WG pilot. “Our job is to provide the ground force commanders with effective, persistent attack capability and we will continue to do that with whatever tools the Air Force provides us.”
Master Sgt. Joshua, a 432nd WG sensor operator, explained that employing new weapons, tactics, software and aircraft efficiently to support the lethal and non-lethal needs of the military is just part of the job.
“To take an entirely new airframe and bring it into combat with lethal effectiveness is incredible, and that such a historic milestone for this new airframe was standard operations for our unit is even more incredible,” he said.
Before the Block 5 could even take off, Airmen of the 432nd Maintenance Group prepared the aircraft to fly.
The new MQ-9 aircraft arrived to Creech AFB in late February and additional modifications, such as the battery cables and enhanced generator control units, were completed in April. In May, these MQ-9s were flown locally at Creech AFB to test airworthiness after the modifications. By the end of May they were packed up again and shipped to the area of responsibility.
“Bottom line, the maintainers of the 432nd MXG were instrumental in preparing the Block 5 aircraft for their first combat sorties,” said Col. Matthew, the 432nd MXG commander. “The men and women of the 432nd MXG were responsible for ensuring combat ready aircraft deployed to the AOR. The success of the first Block 5 sortie was not a single effort and required the 432nd Wing to come together. It was the work of a team from the test and evaluation squadron developing the aircraft, to maintenance preparing it for combat and the aircrews executing the mission. We will continue to come together as we prepare for more Block 5s in the foreseeable future.”
What may be most remarkable about this accomplishment is that it was done while the Airmen of the 432nd Wing remained constantly engaged in combat during the transition activities and training.
“Our Airmen make this look easy,” said Col. Case Cunningham, the 432nd Wing commander. “But the fact is that transitioning and training to directly field a new cockpit and a new airframe into combat with flawless execution, while simultaneously providing continuous multi-role capabilities for the joint and coalition team in our older generation cockpits and aircraft, is nothing short of incredible. It’s just one more reason that these Airmen providing and enabling MQ-9 combat airpower are such highly valued members of the finest joint warfighting team on the planet.”