Mission complete: AF MQ-9s close out successful RIMPAC exercise

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  • 49th Wing Public Affairs

After weeks of non-stop training scenarios on land, at sea and in the air, Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2022 concluded Aug. 4.

Among the 25,000 service members participating in the exercise was a small MQ-9 detachment comprised of active-duty, air national guard and reserve Airmen from Reaper squadrons across the country. Although small in numbers, the MQ-9 enterprise left an indelible mark on the world’s largest maritime exercise demonstrating the remotely-piloted aircraft’s capabilities at RIMPAC for the first time.

“The MQ-9 Reaper community made its debut at RIMPAC 2022 and led the exercise with 32 sorties in 22 days and over 316 airborne hours supporting a wide range of mission sets,” said U.S. Air National Guard Capt. Philip West, RIMPAC MQ-9 Maritime Force integration lead. “We became the most requested asset by partner nations, receiving as many as three times the requests as any other.”

The demands of the exercise meant Airmen sustained 24-hour operations enabling the MQ-9s to support 63 missions which included 25 maritime operation missions, seven personnel recovery missions, six opposition forces missions, and six intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions. They also loaded and launched 16 hellfire missiles.

Long missions and hellfire launches are standard in the MQ-9 world; doing so over the Pacific Ocean and integrating with naval ships however, is not.

RIMPAC introduced the MQ-9 to training events like a sinking exercise, also known as SINKEX. The scenario saw several nations target and sink a decommissioned ship in an effort to test weapons systems. According to West, while the scenario was unfolding at sea the MQ-9 was in the air gathering data which will be used to build a database to inform training development.

Other maritime events included an amphibious assault scenario as well as war-at-sea and surface exercises which capitalized on the MQ-9s intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities to aid ships in finding and targeting opposing forces. The aircraft was also used as a catalyst for a simulated wartime scenario, something fellow participants had never exercised before.

Needless to say, after months of coordinating, the reward at the end of the exercise is sweet especially for leaders like U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Justin Muller, RIMPAC MQ-9 detachment commander, and planners like West.

“The impact we made and the impact made upon us cannot be overstated. All our Airmen, from the crew chiefs and avionics technicians to the aircrew flying the sorties learned a great deal about interoperability on the joint and international level,” Muller said. “We successfully demonstrated our capabilities to all the other players who weren’t quite sure what an MQ-9 could do.”

“The MQ-9 and our team here has received praise from all directions,” West said. “Different participants came up to me saying the MQ-9 was far more diverse than they thought, someone called the Reaper a ‘gamechanger’, and another felt including the Reaper should be part of normal operations here at RIMPAC. It was a lot of hard work but this is exactly what we set out to do.”