Chain of successes leads to Reaper operations

  • Published
  • By Laura McGowan
  • 88th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
The new MQ-9 Reaper has flown daily missions over Afghanistan since late September.

The 658th Aeronautical Systems Squadron, in the 303rd Aeronautical Systems Wing, comprises the team of program managers, functional supporters, testers and logisticians who were behind the team effort of getting the MQ-9 armed and airborne in Afghanistan.

The Aeronautical Systems Center is the primary acquisition agent responsible for developing, testing, producing, delivering and sustaining the MQ-9 Reaper from cradle to grave. Near the end of March, the 658th AESS was instrumental in the first MQ-9 being delivered at Creech Air Force Base, Nev., ahead of schedule to train combat aircrews. That delivery was the first of more than 50 aircraft that are expected to be delivered to ACC.

In March 2006, prompted by the commander, Air Combat Command, Gen. Ronald Keys' request to figure out how to get the MQ-9 out faster, ASC and ACC came up with a way to field the system two years earlier than originally planned. The MQ-9 Early Fielding program began with the goal of delivering initial operational capability to the ACC warfighter in 2007.

The MQ-9 Reaper program evolved from the successful RQ/MQ-1 Predator program. General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc., or GA-ASI, introduced a larger, more robust variant of the MQ-1 in 2002, capable of carrying more payloads, and this variant of the Predator B was officially designated the Reaper in late 2006.

Before the Reaper could be declared operational to deploy, there were important steps that needed to be fulfilled. The completion of the Integrated System Exercise 1 successfully demonstrated operational readiness of the MQ-9 Reaper System in time to support deployment requirements and COMACC Early Fielding direction. ISE 2 will support the preparation of the MQ-9 Reaper System for Initial Operational Test and Evaluation. Upon successful completion of IOT & E, the Reaper will have demonstrated its readiness for full rate production.

"Our combined government and contractor team is very closely tied to our warfighter customers," said Debora Goenaga, director of the 658th AESS. "While every program at ASC is vital to the success of our Air Force, we consider ourselves fortunate to work at the front edge of this evolutionary technology and it is a tremendous privilege to deliver this enabling capability to support the (war on terrorism)."

The MQ-9 Reaper is a medium-to-high altitude, long endurance remotely piloted aircraft system, and its primary mission is as a persistent hunter-killer against enemy targets, supporting joint force commander objectives. It is designed to go after time-sensitive targets with persistence and precision, destroying or disabling those targets.

The MQ-9 is equipped with Raytheon's MTS-B multi-spectral targeting system, a turreted suite of electro-optical and infrared cameras, a laser designator and a laser rangefinder, as well as GA-ASI's synthetic aperture radar.

The aircrew consists of a pilot and a sensor operator who operate from Creech AFB. 

Some 658th AESS members at Wright-Paterson AFB, Ohio, and at the Squadron's Det. 3 in Rancho Bernardo, Calif., manage the program, and the 42nd Attack Squadron at Creech AFB, Nev., operate the Reapers remotely over Afghanistan. That squadron is the first of three Reaper units the Air Force wants to establish within the next 10 years.

"It's a tremendous increase in our capability that will allow us to keep UAVs over the airspace of Afghanistan and Iraq in the future for a very long time," said Lt. Gen. Gary L. North, commander of U.S. Central Command Air Forces, who said the Reaper was a perfect complement to the Air Force's existing manned airborne platforms. "This is just another evolutionary step, where technology is helping commanders on the battlefield to integrate great effects from the air into the ground commander's scheme of maneuver."

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