The Air Force will conduct site surveys at eight candidate bases it is considering to host new MQ-9 Reaper units, officials announced last week.
The service plans to establish units at up to two locations. The Air Force identified five installations as candidates to host an operations group with mission control elements — Davis-Monthan AFB, Ariz.; Moody AFB, Ga.; Mountain Home AFB, Idaho; Offutt AFB, Neb.; and Shaw AFB, S.C.
Those locations currently have an active-duty flying wing or group that performs at least one core remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) mission and/or is co-located with an active-duty distributed ground system, according to a news release. At the selected installation, crews would control the MQ-9 but no aircraft would be assigned to those units.
The Air Force selected four bases — Eglin AFB, Fla.; Tyndall AFB, Fla.; Vandenberg AFB, Calif.; and Shaw AFB — as candidates for the second location, which would potentially host a full MQ-9 wing, including a launch and recovery element and a mission control element, as well as a maintenance group and operations support personnel. Up to 24 MQ-9 aircraft would be assigned to that location.
Site survey teams from Air Combat Command will assess each candidate location against requirements, potential impacts to existing missions, infrastructure and manpower. They will also develop cost estimates to bed down the planned units.
The service plans to select the preferred alternatives as early as the winter of 2016; that selection will be followed by an environmental analysis.
Additional basing locations would help diversify assignment opportunities for personnel within the MQ-9 enterprise, provide increased opportunities for leadership, and provide flexibility to enhance integration with other organizations and capabilities, according to the release.
The Air Force characterizes the Reaper as a multi-mission system, with uses in intelligence gathering as well as its primary job, unmanned attacks. Reapers are now operated out of Creech AFB in Nevada.