Reaper drops bomb on anti-Iraqi forces

USAF photo: Tech. Sgt. Erik Gudmundson An MQ-9 Reaper remotely piloted aircraft prepares to taxi out of a hangar on Aug. 8 at Joint Base Balad, Iraq.

By Staff Sgt. Don Branum: 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

Joint Base Balad, Iraq — An MQ-9 Reaper dropped a 500-pound bomb against an anti-Iraqi target on Aug. 16 in one of the first weapons engagements for the unmanned aircraft system.

The Reaper began flying combat sorties in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom on July 18 and joined the MQ-1 Predator as another UAS patrolling the sky to protect coalition forces.

The successful airstrike, which destroyed a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device, demonstrates the persistent strike capability that the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing provides commanders on the ground, said Brig. Gen. Brian T. Bishop, the 332nd AEW commander.

“We are here to integrate airpower into joint operations in Iraq, and ensuring we make the most of our unmanned-aerial-system capabilities is just one of many ways we do that,” General Bishop said. “With our ability to provide persistent stare and persistent strike, we provide a clear battlefield assessment and quick responses to commanders when they need it.”

During an overwatch mission over southeast Iraq, Reaper operators from the 46th Expeditionary Reconnaissance and Attack Squadron at Joint Base Balad discovered a suspicious vehicle. The Airmen immediately relayed the information to personnel in a local ground unit, said Lt. Col. Micah Morgan, the 46th ERAS commander. After the suspicious vehicle was confirmed to be a VBIED — a variant of the No. 1 killer of Americans on the battlefield — a joint terminal attack controller cleared the Reaper to employ a GBU-12 laser-guided weapon against the vehicle.

“This was a great example of the Reaper’s unique capabilities,” Colonel Morgan said. “We searched for, found, fixed, targeted and destroyed a target with just one aircraft.”

Unmanned aircraft system aircrews’ fusion of the warfighting domains of air, space and cyberspace enables them uniquely to share critical information with JTACs and other command and control elements, ensuring that they hit the right target, Colonel Morgan said.

“We go to great lengths to avoid unnecessary damage, and the Reaper’s unique capabilities allow it to play a key role in our highly disciplined targeting process,” he said.

The 46th ERAS flies both Reaper and Predators. Its aircrews directly control all Reaper operations in Iraq and provide launch and recovery for Predator operations. During UAS missions, they can communicate with critical partners worldwide using a mix of radio, telephone and secure Internet systems.