Holloman hosts air-to-ground integration exercise

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Kindra Stewart
  • 49th Wing Public Affairs

Editor's note: Last name have been withheld due to operational security restraints.

Holloman Air Force Base hosted combat rescue officers from the 351st Special Warfare Training Squadron at Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico, March 12-14, 2019. 

In pursuit of developing a more innovative and lethal force, the CRO students participated in an exercise alongside a team of MQ-9 Reaper pilots and sensor operators from the 6th Attack Squadron here and a joint terminal attack controller from the 7th Air Support Operations Squadron on Fort Bliss, Texas, as part of the air-to-ground integration phase of their training at the 351st SWTS.

The CRO specialty includes direct combatant command and control of combat search and rescue operations, an operational skillset that parallels that of the enlisted pararescuemen and survival, evasion, resistance and escape specialists. These three specialties make up Guardian Angel – a non-aircraft, equipment-based, human weapons system.

As part of the exercise, MQ-9 pilots and sensor operators executed close air support, while the CRO students practiced calling in air strikes as a non-qualified JTAC.

“At this time, Guardian Angel units do not have JTACS, so these students are getting this familiarization and level of training because they might find themselves in a situation where they need to bring close air support on a mission,” said Capt. Carl, 351st SWTS CRO instructor. “Someone on their team needs to have that training.”

From an MQ-9 simulator, students were trained step by step on how to call-in air strikes by a certified JTAC instructor.

“Our students are officers and are expected to communicate in all settings, whether that’s in a briefing room or a tactical environment during a mission on the radio,” Carl said.  “Part of that is communicating directly with aircraft for CAS.”

The MQ-9 is an armed, multi-mission remotely piloted aircraft that is employed primarily against execution targets and secondarily as an intelligence collection asset. 

 “The purpose of this TDY was to provide CRO students training commensurate with their future battlefield responsibilities,” said Capt. Waseem, 351st SWTS Chief CRO instructor. “This is potentially the only time they will have CAS training with live aircraft before their first deployment to a combat zone.”

The students applied their training in a simulated deployed environment on Red Rio Range, New Mexico, communicating with an actual MQ-9 overhead. 

“These individuals on the ground will be helping people in deployed and combat operations,” said Capt. David Asche, 6th ATKS MQ-9 pilot. “It is exposure for them to see how to interact with MQ-9s.”

Carl said Reapers are heavily involved across special operations forces’ missions. 

Intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, close air support and combat search and rescue are only a few of the missions and tasks the MQ-9 can perform.

“It is very important that we get our students exposed to working with (MQ-9s),” said Carl. “(Training to call in air strikes as a non-qualified JTAC) has not happened before, so it is exciting for the training squadron to be able to work with Holloman.”