KIRTLAND AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. --
MQ-9 Reaper pilots, sensor operators and intelligence analysts from the 432nd Wing/432 Air Expeditionary Wing joined coalition and joint partners in simulated combat missions, hosted by the Distributed Mission Operations Center at Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico, Sept. 8 – 20, 2019.
432nd Wing Airmen fly 60 combat lines daily in support of combat operations 24 hours a day, seven days a week. However, this exercise offered aircrews an opportunity to integrate, plan and communicate face-to-face with fellow servicemembers from around the world, while gaining a better understanding of how their tactical actions contribute to operational and strategic objectives.
“This exercise helps prepare the Remotely Piloted Aircraft enterprise to be combat ready for large-scale events where we will have to work with joint and coalition players,” said Capt. Jonathan, MQ-9 mission commander for the exercise. “We tackled some unique roles as mission commanders for entire [combat search and rescue], air interdiction and close air support missions.”
Jonathan also explained that MQ-9 crews flying combat missions communicate with command and control elements such as leadership at an air operations center, and forces on the ground through a chat relay system.
“We were a little anxious, going into the exercise, about how we would work into it,” Jonathan said. “Toward the end we had a sense of pride that we conquered the challenges and were humbled by the fact we were chosen to represent the 25th Attack Group and the wing.”
The exercise tasked Hunter aircrews and intelligence analysts to work closely with aircraft and ground elements that included, but were not limited to, platforms such as the A-10 Thunderbolt, E-3 Sentry, E-8 Joint STARS, R-1 Sentinel, AC-130W Stinger II and Coalition Joint Terminal Attack Controllers.
“It was a blast working with Canadians, British and Australians and to see how our joint partners conducted operations,” said Airman 1st Class Garrett, 482nd Attack Squadron intelligence analyst. “We would then identify trends and tailor our intelligence briefs for ground, air and sea for roughly 400 people.”
Garrett said it was his first exercise and the role he filled in the Analysis Correlation and Fusion cell was a new experience that gave him new perspectives.
“I brought back an understanding of utilizing other airborne assets as a whole and a strategic mindset,” he said.
Staff Sgt. Alec, 50th Attack Squadron sensor operator, also highlighted what he believes is a benefit of having teammates in close proximity.
“The most rewarding thing I received from this was just being able to physically talk to other players -- be it JTACs, Personnel Recovery Cell, Navy or other Partner Forces -- and have a conversation about how to best execute the mission required,” Alec said. “Being able to talk face to face like we did gives the crews we are working with extra confidence in our abilities to help them out. Especially the forces that will be on the ground. Giving them the assurance that we have their back is extremely rewarding.”
The collaboration will not stop at Coalition Virtual Flag.
Jonathan said the aircrews established relationships that will offer further opportunities in the future and increased coalition and joint understanding of MQ-9 multirole capabilities.
Alec offered his advice for the Hunters attending the next Coalition Virtual Flag.
“Get ready for long mission planning days and debriefs,” he said. “Get out and talk to other players. Go tell others what you are capable of and how you can help them out. Basically, sell yourself or your abilities to help accomplish the mission. Also, have fun. A lot of our coalition partners are really cool and can tell you some amazing stories.”
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