MQ-9 instructors bolster skills during RIMPAC

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Antonio Salfran
  • 49th Wing Public Affairs

More than 25,000 service members from around the world are making waves at the biennial Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2022 exercise in Hawaii. For the first time in history, this includes instructor pilots from the 49th Wing’s MQ-9 Formal Training Unit.

While Holloman aircrew, maintainers and support personnel are working around the clock on the ground at RIMPAC, their fellow Airmen back at home station are pulling double-duty flying in the exercise and maintaining their normal MQ-9 training schedule with student pilots and sensor operators.

“Our MQ-9 Reaper instructors are briefing and executing daily training events taking place in RIMPAC,” said U.S. Air Force Capt. Nicholous Banks, 29th Attack Squadron MQ-9 instructor pilot. “But on days where they aren’t scheduled [to fly in support of] RIMPAC, they are also conducting student production local to Holloman.”

The 49th Wing graduates approximately 700 aircrew each year making it the largest MQ-9 Formal Training Unit in the Air Force.

Working from home station for an exercise taking place more than 3,200 miles away is no easy task, but it’s an experience that will have a lasting impact.

“Many of our instructors have limited experience in pacific zones of operations,” said Banks. “By placing them in RIMPAC, we are refining our instructors to be prepared for any situation.”

This is a new environment for many of the Airmen who have never participated in an exercise as large, complex and fast-paced as RIMPAC.

“The tone of this exercise reminds me of a combat-type environment,” Banks said. “It’s very dynamic and the workload has significantly increased, we shift times and priorities very quickly.”

In the midst of the rapid changes is U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Justin Muller, RIMPAC MQ-9 detachment mission commander. As the MQ-9 lead, he oversees all MQ-9 operations and can attest to the benefits instructors will gain from RIMPAC.

“As part of our MQ-9 Formal Training syllabus, we have our instructors teach maritime surface warfare operations,” Muller said. “At a minimum, this exercise is providing them a practical and foundational understanding to what that sortie’s focus should be.”

With participating units coming together from different parts of the world, the importance of communication has emerged as a key component to their success.

“I have learned how critical communication is. In the first week of the exercise, we struggled with communication and it showed,” Banks said. As we’ve started executing, I have seen areas where I should have planned better or developed a better process. Through failure we learn our best lessons, so I feel as though I have grown professionally and personally.”

Twenty-six nations, 38 ships, three submarines, more than 170 aircraft and 25,000 personnel are participating in RIMPAC from June 29 to Aug. 4 in and around the Hawaiian Islands and Southern California. The world's largest international maritime exercise, RIMPAC provides a unique training opportunity while fostering and sustaining cooperative relationships among participants critical to ensuring the safety of sea lanes and security on the world's oceans. RIMPAC 2022 is the 28th exercise in the series that began in 1971.