One team, one fight: Exercise Agile Reaper

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Collette Brooks
  • 49th Wing Public Affairs

‘Accelerate, change or lose’ – that is exactly what the MQ-9 Reaper community is working together to achieve during Exercise Agile Reaper.

The routine training exercise focuses on rapidly deploying multiple MQ-9s from Holloman Air Force Base, N.M., to an unfamiliar location using minimal personnel, fuel and equipment. The goal of the exercise is to reduce the deployment timeline to a matter of hours versus weeks.

“Agile Reaper is about beating adversary targeting cycles as we get MQ-9s into any location, rapidly relaunch, and create effects, before the enemy detects and targets us,” said Lt. Col. Brian Davis, 29th Attack Squadron commander. “We’re putting penetrating, persistent, multi-role aircraft over the battlespace where least expected. This provides reduced-risk, low-cost options to our leaders that present asymmetries to potential adversaries. It’s combat initiative…this is strategic audacity.”

This is the first iteration of Agile Reaper, which included deployment of three MQ-9s and remote command and control infrastructure. 

“We moved personnel and assets close to 2,000 miles without need for tankers,” said Davis. “In a very short time after touch down, we began developing, maintaining and disseminating maritime domain awareness over the Pacific training ranges to enhance the effectiveness of fleet, air and surface forces, showing that the same can be done over areas like the South China Sea and Black Sea.”

Exercise participants are able to improve upon the quality of training, which aids in preparing them for near and peer-level adversary competition while equipping aircrew for the high-end fight.

“Our Chief (of Staff of the Air Force) asked us to Accelerate Change or Lose,” said Davis. “We are doing that here and this has been an MQ-9 community-wide effort. In addition to building a better quality product faster as a formal training unit which builds the next generation of combat airpower, Agile Reaper demonstrates an operational reach and penetrating persistent multirole capability, even into the most highly contested environments, anywhere in the world.”

Davis continued by explaining some unique qualities and benefits of the MQ-9.

“We do this with minimal fuel requirements, a zero tanker requirement in-fact, a very lean and agile logistical footprint, and the highest mission-capable rates compared to any other aircraft in our inventory; all at a lower cost to the tax-payer,” said Davis. “On top of all of this, our agile and remote command and control network creates strategic complexities to our adversaries that no traditionally-manned platform can obtain – we’re not physically in the aircraft and can move that operation around quickly.”

Both U.S. Navy and U.S. Air Force experts are working together for this training. Agile Reaper participants are building upon capabilities widely practiced in the MQ-9 community and relying heavily upon the knowledge and practice from locations across the MQ-9 enterprise, Davis said. 

“While rapidly deploying the unique remote command and control capabilities of the MQ-9 is new here, rapid deployment of the MQ-9 footprint, literally around the world, is not,” said Davis.

Lessons learned from previous exercises have allowed the deployment of resources to happen faster, and also allowed a reduced logistical footprint.    

“We deployed half-way across the country with a very small team of professionals,” said Master Sgt. Jeffrey Camara, 49th Aircraft Communications Maintenance Unit lead production superintendent. “Within just a few hours of arrival, our team was ready, cockpits were set, and our aircraft’s mission command and control capability was established. We know without a doubt we could execute this same capability anywhere in the world, and the team loved it!”

This training exercise enhances the capabilities of the Airmen directly participating, and those supporting from various locations.

“Our instructors, student pilots and sensor operators at Holloman are getting valuable maritime training,” said Master Sgt. Chance Cole, 9th Aircraft Maintenance Unit production superintendent. “Our crew chiefs and maintenance counterparts are getting a full view of what the MQ-9 community is truly capable of and what makes us the best Air Force in the world.”

The exercise included participants from the 49th Maintenance Group, 49th Mission Support Group and 49th Operations Group at Holloman, 51st Combat Communications Special Mission Squadron at Robins AFB, Ga., March Air Reserve Base, Calif., and Creech AFB, Nevada.

“The teams are thinking through contingencies, and have quickly adapted and integrated with U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps, special operations and U.S. Coast Guard to conduct exercises at the same time and in the same space,” said Maj. Dustin Barbour, 49th Operations Group officer in charge of launch and recovery operations. “All participates are working together to overcome any challenges and ensure mission execution.”

Investing in the training and education of the exercise while collaborating with other U.S. military services strengthens relationships, improves readiness and bolsters lethality.

“I want my Airmen to understand the importance of what we are doing here and how extremely proud I am of them,” said Cole. “This exercise is more than me, more than them, more than (Holloman). It is a huge combined accomplishment for the future of the MQ-9 community and demonstrates our capabilities.”

Exercise Agile Reaper serves as a platform to showcasing the ability to rapidly mobilize the entire MQ-9 mission while integrating across multiple domains.

“I have been flying MQ-1s and MQ-9s since 2009,” said Barbour. “I worked at a launch and recovery sight that landed 16 airplanes a day, but watching these three MQ-9s operate here has been the most gratifying moment in my career!”