The fact that the USAF's main UAV base is close to the fleshpots of Las Vegas is "a large, serious problem for 39 Squadron", according to Sqn Ldr Stephen Lamping, chief of staff for the Royal Air Force's MQ-9 Reaper unit.
Creech AFB does not look like thisLamping says that the squadron would like to get more joint terminal air controllers (JTACs) and other ground troops out to Creech AFB in Nevada before they deploy. "Someone's going to Afghanistan in four weeks and he says, 'Boss, can I go to Vegas?' You know what answer he gets," Lamping told Defence IQ's UCAV conference in London on Tuesday. "We try to say Creech."
Other perceptions that need to be laid to rest, Lamping says, include the view that UAV operators are "detached from the theater. It's the opposite. Say that I'm protecting a patrol base in Helmand. I may be on it for months, talking to the same JTACs for five or six hours a day. I've become absolutely involved. I can tell if the JTAC is tired, I can tell if he's pissed off."
Lamping calls the MQ-9's serviceability "outstanding". The small force of RAF Reapers, operated by 39 Sqn crews at Creech but supported in theater by the same team as USAF aircraft, has now logged 11,500 combat hours and released 100 weapons, including "far more Hellfires than GBU-12s," although the 500-pound laser-guided bombs are usually carried. Typical missions are flown at around 20,000 feet and last 16 hours, Lamping says.