Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan: Members of the 62nd Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron here reached a significant milestone recently when the Air Force’s remotely piloted aircraft flew their 250,000th hour in Afghanistan at the end of May.
The 62nd ERS is home to the MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper aircraft at Kandahar Airfield. Over a five-year span, the unit has flown and supported these aircraft, beginning in 2005.
The squadron’s operational tempo has increased tremendously in the past year, said Lt. Col. Morgan Curry, the 62nd ERS commander. “Forty-eight percent of our five-year total was flown in the past 12 months.”
The crews use satellite uplinks that allow the transfer of control between the deployed local pilots who taxi, launch, land and recover the aircraft from trailers near the flight line and the crews based in the U.S. or U.K.
Teams from multiple units across the U.S. control the aircraft in flight, said Colonel Curry, another unique aspect of the remotely-piloted aircraft’s mission.
“When I first arrived, this was different for me,” Colonel Curry said. “I was part of the flight crew team at Creech (AFB) so it had been a while since I had landed the aircraft. But it’s great to see both sides of the operations.
The primary mission of the 62nd ERS is to launch and recover all the Air Force RPAs in Afghanistan, Colonel Curry said.
A separate team of military and civilian members maintain and repair the aircraft, when necessary.
“Maintenance and inspections are performed on the aircraft just like manned aircraft. If we need to, we also replace the weapons and get it back in the air. ”
The unit spans the gamut from strategic to tactical intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance from keeping an eye on large targets to performing tactical ISR, watching out for coalition and Afghan partners.
“The intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities are a huge part of our strategy to keep an eye on everything, literally,” he said.
Both aircraft can perform dual missions of close-air support and ISR taskings.
The Predator can stay airborne for more than 24 hours and although the Reaper does not fly as long as the Predator, it can fly at higher altitudes and can carry more weapons, squadron officials said.
Each aircraft is equipped with a full-motion video camera with various modes that can detect enemy movements.
The MQ-1 Predator carries the multi-spectral targeting system which integrates electro-optical, infrared, laser designator and laser illuminator into a single sensor package, according to an Air Force fact sheet.
The aircraft can employ two laser-guided AGM-114 Hellfire anti-tank missiles.
Reapers provide the joint-force commander a persistent hunter-killer ability, able to strike emerging targets. The MQ-9 also acts as an ISR asset, employing sensors to provide real-time data to commanders and intelligence specialists at all levels.