An MQ-9 Reaper successfully hit a sea-going target with an AGM-114 Hellfire missile during a joint service training exercise over the Gulf of Mexico on March 17.
This was the first time a remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) hit a maritime target.
“It was the first time we had put live weapons into boats and participated in maritime (exercises),” said Capt. Timothy Ford, a 26th Weapons Squadron flight commander. “For our (RPA) community it’s a big step forward, it’s a mission set we had looked at for a long time and training opportunities over water are not very prevalent (at Nellis).”
In addition to this being the first time an RPA squadron hit a maritime target; it was also a chance to integrate with other aircraft including A-10 Thunderbolt IIs, F-16 Fighting Falcons and F-35A Lightning IIs.
“It’s the first opportunity for us to fly with the F-35, talk to each other and coordinate attacks between the two platforms and ensure deconfliction while we’re doing that,” said Capt. Ryan Cross, a 26th WPS training officer.
Another high note of the exercise was that it gave the RPA community a chance to demonstrate to operators of other aircraft, the unique capabilities the MQ-9 can bring to the fight.
The MQ-9 is able to stay in a potentially hostile area for hours. It can collect intelligence and pass that information on to other aircraft when it becomes a more volatile situation.
“As soon as it does become a situation where the shooting happens, we’re the ones with the situational awareness because we’ve been there so long and we’re able to pass that on to other fighters as they check in and build their situational awareness,” Ford said. “That’s our role in a lot of mission sets. It’s nice to be able to prove it in a maritime environment.”
Through this exercise, the MQ-9 demonstrated its abilities in destroying sea-going targets, integrating and deconflicting with other aircraft, as well as being able to stay in an area far longer than any other platform.
Ford stated, now that they have built relationships with other aircraft and proven the abilities of the MQ-9, it will hopefully open doors to more training opportunities around the country.
The 26th WPS is a squadron assigned to the U.S. Air Force Weapons School, which trains tactical experts and leaders of Airmen skilled in the art of integrated battlespace dominance across the land, air, space and cyber domains.