Ramping Up for UAVs

The US military has established some new bases closer to the presumed action in Afghanistan specifically to get unmanned aerial vehicles on the scene more quickly, reports USA Today. Dyke Weatherington, DOD’s deputy director for unmanned warfare, told the newspaper that the Pentagon had identified areas where it would need a “sustained presence” and added, “Recently we set up a couple of additional bases closer to the Pakistan border that cut down those transit times.” And, in Afghanistan, military spokesman Col. Greg Julian told USA Today that additional bases were being established for drones and more troops. The Air Force operates both the MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper UAVs in Afghanistan; the larger Reaper hunter-killer entered the arena in September 2007. Although the UAV missions generally are flown by pilots and sensor operators at the service’s UAV-central at Creech AFB, Nev., the Air Force must have pilots and sensor operators on hand in theater to handle launch and recovery and some of the spontaneous troops-in-contact action. Among these airmen is Maj. Rick Wageman, a 250-combat hour F-16 pilot who switched to Predators less than a year ago and already has some 250 combat support hours with the UAV. Wageman acknowledged that their primary job in Afghanistan is launch and recovery for the mission crew, but he added, “Anything else we do on top of that is gravy because we have the ability to support local stuff.” The service also has UAV crew chiefs forward deployed to assist with launch and recovery and handle any maintenance issues. (Includes Bagram report by SSgt. Rachel Martinez)