Air Force MQ-9 Reaper makes debut at Marine Corps exercise

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Ariel O’Shea
  • 432nd Wing/432nd Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

A U.S. Air Force MQ-9 Reaper participated in a Marine Corps Service Level Training Exercise (SLTE) for the first time ever here from July 24-28, 2023, an event that saw joint cooperation between the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps.

Assigned to the 432nd Wing, the MQ-9’s presence in SLTE 5-23 was a unique opportunity to verify and exercise new Agile Combat Employment (ACE) capabilities, as well as tactics, techniques and procedures for the remotely piloted aircraft. The MQ-9 was developed for counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism (COIN/CT) operations and continues to be very effective in those areas, but RPAs can also provide value in strategic competition operations by leveraging their long loiter times to provide persistent intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.

“This exercise is an extraordinary opportunity, as it allows our Airmen to get some much-needed practice at Satellite Communication (SATCOM) Launch and Recovery (LR), as well as define our mission generation capabilities in an agile combat environment,” said Col. Nicholas Pederson, 432nd Wing/432nd Air Expeditionary Wing commander.

The genesis of the Wing’s participation, known as AGILE CONDOR, can be traced back to the spark of an idea from Maj. Robert Burns, a former Marine officer who is now chief of weapons at the 22nd Attack Squadron, who saw the benefit of working with other services.

“Having the opportunity to work with our sister services will prepare all of us to deter and defeat the pacing threat,” said Burns. "One of the main goals is to establish a common language and understanding between branches. We want to build mutual trust and confidence, so we can seamlessly rely on each other in future operations."

The exercise also emphasizes "brilliance in the basics," encouraging participants to master fundamental skills and tactics before moving on to more complex scenarios. This approach ensures that military members are well-prepared for any situation they may encounter in the field.

"By getting back to the basics, we can ensure that our joint forces are equipped to tackle any challenge thrown their way," said Burns. "We want to be the best-trained, most agile force in the world."

The entire Wing benefitted from this preparation, as the 432nd Maintenance Group generated sorties at its home station of Creech Air Force Base, Nevada, and Twentynine Palms, California; the 432nd Mission Support Group supported with logistics and transportation; the 25th Attack Group, a geographically separated unit at Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina, was able to certify crews on SATCOM LR; the 432nd Operations Group provided LR expertise and instruction; and the 732nd Operations Group crews flew sorties on the range with USMC joint terminal attack controllers and fire live Hellfire missiles.

“This is truly a 432nd Wing enterprise,” said Pederson. “Exercising elements of ACE enables us to operate from locations with varying levels of capacity and support, ensuring Airmen are postured to respond across the spectrum of conflict.”

SLTEs serve as critical training vessels for the Marine Corps. They involve a comprehensive evaluation of various military units, ranging from the squad level to the battalion level. SLTEs incorporate a series of phased exercises to include the Integrated Training Exercise (ITX), Marine Air Ground Task Force Distributed Maneuver Exercise (MDMX), Adversary Force Exercise (AFX), Mountain Exercise (MTX), and culminates with Marine Air Ground Task Force Warfighting Exercise (MWX).

One of the primary objectives of the SLTE is to replicate the fog and friction of real-world warfighting. This means pushing military personnel to their limits and challenging them to adapt to dynamic situations on the simulated battlefield. The exercise aims to prepare its players for the unpredictability of real combat scenarios, emphasizing the need for flexibility, adaptability, and resourcefulness.

With joint training becoming increasingly critical in today's complex security landscape, AGILE CONDOR sets a precedent for future joint exercises and enhances the overall readiness of both the Air Force and Marine Corps. As the exercise concludes, participants will debrief and analyze their performance to apply valuable lessons learned to future operations. The hope is that this joint training effort will strengthen the bond between the branches and lead to greater success in their shared missions.

“When we shake hands with our Marine counterparts in the future, we'll remember this exercise and know that we can rely on each other,” said Burns. “That's the true measure of success."

An additional exercise, AGILE HUNTER, is scheduled to take place next month.