By Lt. Col. James R. Wilson, 919th Special Operations Wing
Air Force Special Operations Command’s Remotely Piloted Aircraft enterprise participated in an Emerald Flag exercise here Oct. 17-20, using the large-force event to demonstrate the Agile Combat Employment of MQ-9 Reaper aircraft anywhere in the world.
Emerald Flag is a multi-domain exercise conducted on the Eglin Air Force Base test and training range allowing the Joint Force to connect air, land, sea, space and cyberspace for the advancement of complex weapons systems.
“One of the many benefits of our participation in Emerald Flag is that it provides established procedures for increased MQ-9 live training outside of the combat environment,” said Corey, a major in the 2nd Special Operations Squadron and MQ-9 pilot.
Corey and other members of the 2nd SOS have a steady state commitment to support combat operations worldwide which often limits stateside training.
In Emerald Flag, members of the Air Force Reserve’s 2nd SOS and their active-duty counterparts in the 65th SOS integrated with MC-130H Combat Talon II and leveraged the wide range of capabilities presented by Mission Support Team specialists, both from Hurlburt Field. The partnership focused largely on MQ-9 aircraft recovery operations. MST members set up security and provided a communications station on the “deployed” airfield in support of the Reaper for the exercise.
The MQ-9 currently employs a Launch and Recovery Element consisting of infrastructure and ground crews at forward operating locations for takeoff and landing operations. Emerald Flag offered a venue for AFSOC’s RPA community to once again demonstrate its Satellite Communications Launch and Recovery capability.
“SATCOM Launch and Recovery allows the Mission Control Element to conduct ground operations, taxi, takeoff and land via satellite communications without the need for a Launch and Recovery Element,” said Dakota, also a major in the 2nd SOS and MQ-9 pilot. “This capability significantly reduces logistics and airlift requirements when the asset is forward deployed.”
To demonstrate its enhanced range and reduced footprint, the MQ-9 performed SLR at four separate airfields within 28 hours to include Cannon AFB, New Mexico, and three bases in the Florida Panhandle to include Eglin AFB Field 6, Duke Field and Hurlburt Field. Without SLR, this would not have been possible considering the infrastructure required when using a Launch and Recovery Element for MQ-9 operations.
The MQ-9s were teamed with an MC-130J Commando, a small maintenance team, the MST and a small element of special tactics squadron members to secure Field 6, which was simulated as being behind enemy lines. In doing so, the MQ-9s demonstrated their ability to forward arm and refuel as part of the exercise.
“Emerald Flag was our opportunity to highlight how we are leveraging Agile Combat Employment into MQ-9 operations,” Dakota said. “We did this by using a small team, landing at a simulated forward operating base, refueling and continuing to fly the mission. All of this was accomplished with an extremely small footprint which opens up the possibility for using MQ-9s in places we could not reach previously.”
Exercise officials emphasized the team approach with multifunctional Airmen utilized in Emerald Flag was key to their success.
“We are leading the enterprise in validating the MQ-9’s Automatic Takeoff and Landing Capability and demonstrating its impact on the operational mission,” Dakota said. “Exercises like Emerald Flag are invaluable and provide unique opportunities for us to continue shaping the future of MQ-9 operations.”