The New York Air National Guard's 174th Fighter Wing has received its first MQ-9A Reaper armed unmanned air vehicle at its Syracuse, NY base. It did not fly in, however, and won't fly from Syracuse yet - it will be used for maintenance training. In November, the 174FW expects to fly its first combat air patrol (CAP) mission, becoming the second operational US Reaper unit and the first to be based away from Creech AFB in Nevada.
The story linked here states that "the unit will maintain two aircraft for maintenance training and 14 additional aircraft for actual flying missions, two of those actually operating in the local area." It's going to be interesting to see when that last milestone is reached. So far, Reaper and Predator training operations have been concentrated over the big military ranges in the Western US - but diversifying operations as the force expands to 50 continuous CAPs means spreading out to other areas.
USAF photo at Creech AFB
The Guard crews will also be the first outside Creech to take part in the unique style of Predator/Reaper combat operations, executing lethal attacks on enemy forces from Syracuse and returning home daily, on a rotating three-shift basis. As UK analyst and former V-bomber pilot Andrew Brookes points out, "you can see the face of the enemy as the bomb hits, and you can see the aftermath."
While some commanders have minimized the psychological burden of such operations, a USAF officer who has looked closely at the Creech units recently described it as "unbelievable stress... I kiss my wife goodbye, take the kids to school, go to work and kill people on the other side of the world." In a deployed operation, "I get into theater. I eat, I shave, I lift weights and I fight. It's not easy but it's all I have to do."
At Creech, not only do UAV crews wear combat fatigues, but the ground control stations are covered in camouflage netting. "I like the things we've done," the officer says, "but there's a whole lot more to do."