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Reaper flies 1st combat mission over Iraq
Lt. Col. Micah Morgan (left) and Maj. John Chesser inspect the arming devices on a munition affixed to an MQ-9 Reaper at Joint Base Balad, Iraq, July 17. The Reaper can carry up to 3,750 pounds of munitions, including GBU-12 laser-guided bombs and Hellfire missiles. Colonel Morgan is the 46th Expeditionary Reconnaissance and Attack Squadron commander, and Major Chesser is a Reaper pilot with the 46th ERAS. Both officers are deployed from Creech Air Force Base, Nev. (Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Richard Lisum)
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Reaper: friend to allies; Grim Reaper to foes

Posted 7/25/2008   Updated 7/25/2008 Email story   Print story


by Laura McGowan
88th Air Base Wing Public Affairs

7/25/2008 - WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio -- Reaper flew its first operational mission in Iraq July 18. For the Air Force and ground forces, this added weapons system is a much needed asset; for enemy targets it's a force to reckon with.

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 emerging targets to achieve joint force commander objectives.

To get the Reaper to the warfighter, the 703rd Aeronautical Systems Group with the Aeronautical Systems Center at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, execute rapid acquisition, development, testing and sustainment of the Reaper weapons system to support current and future warfighter needs from cradle to grave.

"Several years ago, the Secretary of Defense directed the 703rd to deliver MQ-9 hunter-killer capabilities 18 months early, resulting in the first combat employment in Afghanistan in September 2007," said Col. Christopher Coombs, commander of the 703rd AESG. "Working together with Air Combat Command and the prime contractor, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc., all the stops were pulled out to surge the capability to the field."

He said, "The MQ-9, without a doubt, is a force multiplier, and its suite of sensors and communications links provide airmen on the battlefield persistent awareness of their surroundings and a robust target prosecution capability."

"The Reaper has an electro-optical sensor and high resolution radar that can see targets through the clouds, and it can also carry a mix of 500-pound bombs and Hellfire missiles," said Col. Coombs.

When asked how it feels to be involved with the Reaper program, he said, "I think the Air Force Chief of Staff stated it best, 'The Reaper is a significant evolution in capability for the Air Force. These aircraft have evolved from performing mainly intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platforms to carrying out true hunter-killer missions.'" He said, "It is an honor to command the Air Force and contractor teams, providing this evolution in capability of Reapers to successfully execute GWOT missions, and without a doubt, this system adds to our arsenal and saves lives."

"The Reaper was built around being both a hunter and a killer," said Colonel Micah Morgan, commander of the 46th Expeditionary Reconnaissance and Attack Squadron, Balad Air Base, Iraq. "That's one of the things that make it such an effective weapon-- its onboard camera and sensors make it a great hunter, and the 3,750 pounds of weapons makes it a great killer."

Lt. Col. Morgan is dual-qualified in both the Predator and Reaper in all phases of flight, and he was involved with the Reaper's first operational mission there in every aspect. He commands the deployed Airmen who operate and maintain all the Predators and Reapers supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom.

"The Air Force has an extremely disciplined targeting process and strict rules of engagement," said Lt. Col. Morgan. "These strict rules reduce collateral damage tremendously, and with our accurate on-board sensors, we ensure the target is destroyed and nothing else."

"We are part of a complex kill chain, which involves real-time command and control of the lethal assets," he said. "The Reaper has a great advantage over other aircraft. We have small, low yield weapons as well as 500-pound bombs."

To choreograph a successful Reaper mission involves teamwork between pilot and sensor operator. Maj. Jon Chesser, MQ-9 instructor pilot describes the feeling he gets from "flying" the Reaper is much like the one he got flying an F-15E. "Sounds funny, but [it's] very true," he said. "I used to fly in the back seat of the F-15E as a weapons system operator, and [the feeling] is very similar. [With the Reaper], you get the same feeling of accomplishment after helping the guys out on the ground as you do in an airplane that you 'fly in,' and the fact that you're not risking a pilot's life in the process is an added bonus."

Another important Reaper operations member is the sensor operator. "A sensor operator's role is very much the same as a co-pilot/weapon systems officer. The SO has the responsibility of assisting the pilot with take-offs, landings, air speeds, altitude, approach speeds, weapons employment and airspace deconfliction," said SMSgt. Ralph Goodwater, superintendent of Reaper operations in Iraq. "The SO must have a skilled level of airmanship to cross check all the functions that are required to fly safely in any airspace."

When asked what the Reaper brings to the fight, SMSgt. Goodwater said, "Fire power and persistence. The Reaper, because it's unmanned, has the ability to loiter for extended periods of time and can deliver a combination of weapons if the target situation changes."

Lt. Col. Morgan said, "It has a great advantage over other aircraft. We can give the ground commander the effects he needs--big or small, day or night with persistence and long loiter."

He said of the Reaper's lethality, "If I were an insurgent fighting against the coalition, I'd quit."

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