The remotely piloted aircraft used by the 188th Wing is for the first time being launched from the Fort Smith Regional Airport as part of the exercise Establish Fury designed to exhibit the 188th’s access to military airspace, especially the Razorback Range at Fort Chaffee.
The exercises, being held through July 14, will welcome the MQ-9 Reaper aircraft based at Houston’s 147th Attack Wing and other Air National Guard forces, a press release said.
“This is a phenomenal opportunity to dynamically employ the MQ-9 in our superb training facilities and airspace, providing real-time, face-to-face debriefing and data sharing,” said Col. Patric Coggin, 188th Operations Group commander. “Hosting this exercise capitalizes on our unique proximity to nearby training airspace and favorable weather.”
The MQ-9 Reaper remotely piloted aircraft will launch from the Fort Smith Regional Airport for training flights over Razorback Range at Fort Chaffee Joint Maneuver Training Center near Charleston. The close proximity from launch location to training area provides more time for training rather than transport, which is the norm for other locations, said Capt. Dylan Hollums, 188th public affairs officer.
Razorback Range is a 188th Wing owned and operated tactical training range, located seven nautical miles from the Fort Smith Regional Airport. The proximity between run-way and the Military Operating Area allows units to spend less time on transit and more time on training, reducing overall training costs, the news release said.
“This is an exciting opportunity to provide joint service training right here in Fort Smith,” Hollums said. “The ability to launch and recover 147th Attack Wing aircraft from Ebbing Air National Guard Base provides invaluable training to both Wings.”
The training will save money and provide greater training opportunities as well as allow the 188th to respond more quickly to help “fellow citizens and neighbors” during a natural disaster or crisis, he added.
“During a natural disaster such as a hurricane, having an invaluable tool such as the MQ-9 Reaper in our toolbox will strengthen our ability to respond quickly and effectively to help our neighbors in their recovery efforts,” Hollums said.
According to an Air Force fact sheet, the Reaper, a remotely piloted aircraft, is used primarily as an intelligence-collection asset though it also can be used to destroy targets or kill personnel.
“Given its significant loiter time, wide-range sensors, multi-mode communications suite, and precision weapons, it provides a unique capability to perform strike, coordination, and reconnaissance against high-value, fleeting, and time-sensitive targets,” the fact sheet said.
Reapers also perform intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, close air support, combat search and rescue, precision strike, buddy-lase, convoy and raid overwatch, route clearance, target development, and terminal air guidance missions. The search and rescue missions can be significantly helpful during times of natural disaster or crisis.
The Reaper can be disassembled and loaded into a single container for deployment anywhere in the world, the fact sheet said. The entire system can be transported in the C-130 Hercules or larger aircraft, and it operates from standard airfields with clear line-of-sight to the ground data terminal antenna, which provides line-of-sight communications for takeoff and landing. The MQ-9 has also been modified for extended range operations through the addition of external fuel tanks capable of holding 1,300 (pounds) of fuel.
Though remotely piloted aircraft have been flown at Razorback Range before by the Army and Air National Guard, this is the first time one will be “launched” from Ebbing Air National Guard Base in Fort Smith, Hollums said.
“Residents living near the airport might notice the aircraft taking off or landing enroute to and from the range, but we do not anticipate any excessive noise,” he said of the training.