BREAKING: New Block 5 MQ-9 debuts in combat

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Christian Clausen
  • 432nd Wing/432nd Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

On 23 June, 2017, the latest version of the MQ-9 Reaper, the Block 5 variant, was successfully flown in combat in support of Operation Inherent Resolve.

The aircrew flew a sortie of over 16 hours with a full payload of weapons including GBU-38 Joint Direct Attack Munitions and AGM-114 Hellfire missiles. During the mission, the crew employed one GBU-38 and two Hellfires while providing hours of armed reconnaissance for supported ground forces.

“Working in conjunction with coalition joint terminal attack controllers, other MQ-9 aircraft and crews, our aircrews employed two Hellfires and one GBU-38,” Maj. Dan, a 432nd Wing director of operations. “All three strikes met the ground force commander’s intent and destroyed two defensive fighting positions, two vehicles and one mortar tube.”

The Block 5 MQ-9 is the newest iteration of the Reaper and is equipped with improved electrical and communications systems which provides better software and hardware upgrades for future operations providing dominant persistent attack and reconnaissance to the joint force commanders. The new aircraft must also be flown with the new Block 30 cockpit that required different training for the aircrews.

While employing weapons from a new aircraft flown from a new cockpit is a historic milestone, the aircrew who flew the mission were humbled by the experience.

“[This strike] was no different than employing weapons off the previous version of the MQ-9,” said Maj. Chad, 432nd WG pilot. “Our job is to provide the ground force commanders with effective persistent attack capability and we will continue to do that with whatever tools the Air Force provides us.”

Master Sgt. Joshua, 432nd WG sensor operator explained that employing new weapons, tactics, software and aircraft efficiently to support the lethal and non-lethal needs of the military is just part of the job. However, he did agree the event was historic.

“To take an entirely new airframe and bring it into combat with lethal effectiveness is incredible and that such a historic milestone for this new airframe was standard operations for our unit is even more incredible,” he said.

The Block 5 wouldn’t have even been able to take off without the dedication of many maintainers that prepared it to fly its mission.

The new MQ-9 aircraft arrived to Creech AFB in late February and were unpacked and additional modifications, such as the battery cables and enhanced generator control unit, were completed in April. In May these MQ-9s were flown locally at Creech AFB to test airworthiness after the modifications and then by the end of the month they were packed up again and shipped to the area of responsibility.

“Bottom-line, the maintainers of the 432nd Maintenance Group were instrumental in preparing the Block 5 aircraft for their first combat sorties,” said Col. Matthew, 432nd MXG commander. “The men and women of the 432nd MXG were responsible for ensuring combat ready aircraft deployed to the AOR.”

While the new aircraft is scheduled for additional upgrades, aircrews will continue to employ the Block 5 in its current state.

“Because of thorough training our MQ-9 crews will overcome the differences to provide the same professional level of air support downrange, that we have for the past several years,” Dan said. “With the promised potential for better software and hardware upgrades the future looks promising.”

“The success of the first Block 5 sortie was not a single effort and required the 432nd Wing to come together,” Col. Matthew said. “It was the work of a team from the test and evaluation squadron developing the aircraft, to maintenance preparing it for combat and the aircrews executing the mission. We will continue to come together as we prepare for more Block 5s in the foreseeable future.”

What may be most remarkable about this accomplishment is that it was done while the Airmen of the 432nd Wing remained constantly engaged in combat during the transition activities and training.

“Our Airmen make this look easy,” said Col. Case Cunningham, the 432nd Wing commander. “But the fact is that transitioning and training to direct field a new cockpit and a new airframe into combat with flawless execution, while simultaneously providing continuous multi-role capabilities for the Joint and coalition team in our older generation cockpits and aircraft, is nothing short of incredible.  It’s just one more reason that these Airmen providing and enabling MQ-9 combat airpower are such highly valued members of the finest joint warfighting team on the planet.”