Reservists, RPA mission transforming for future fight

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Mark Jones
  • 2nd Special Operations Squadron commander
The palm trees wave gently in the light breeze, and the sound of lapping waves is the only sound that breaks the silence on the small island. A bee flies by in the distance. Its buzzing wings sound far away, like a low hum that is barely audible, but suddenly the sound grows louder.

Immediately, the sky is full with the wingspan of a single MQ-9 Remotely Piloted Aircraft just 100 feet off the ground. Anyone watching closely would see it staring at the ground with a single, unblinking eye that moves, almost imperceptibly left and right and back to the center. After a single pass, it's gone. At that low altitude, it quickly disappears behind the swaying palms.

Thousands of miles away in a dark room, a woman peers at a screen with the icons for four such aircraft spread out around the island. There is not another land mass for thousands of miles. She quickly glances at their video feeds and the chat room. The calls are coming in with confirmation - no adversary aircraft or ground forces detected. She turns back to the situation display and watches as the first unmanned Reaper aircraft circles back towards the long stretch of highway it surveyed moments ago and lines up for an automatic landing. Moments later, the aircraft touches down and rolls to the end, turns off onto the shoulder of the road, and just before shutting off, drops two pods on the grass.

A crackle of static breaks the silence in a nearby Ground Control Station. Seconds later, the flight lead in the MQ-9 begins coordinating with the C-130 aircraft for landing on the same highway, a United States Air Force airstrip now being defended by the flight of Reapers.

The story above is a fictional depiction of future warfare, and members of the Air Force Reserve have already developed the capabilities described. It illustrates two important things. First, it demonstrates special operations airpower can support the greater mission of the U.S. Air Force and the Air Component Commander. It also illustrates the MQ-9s Automatic Takeoff and Landing Capability, when paired with special operations aircrew, can provide unique capabilities to the joint force.

In both cases, this represents an important shift away from the past two decades and towards strategic competition and preparation for conflict.

Members of the 919th Special Operations Wing are already investigating how to implement these concepts—all over the globe—and conducting the kinds of experiments that will help us perfect our ability to exploit new capabilities as we conduct strategic competition. The MQ-9's participation in Emerald Flag Exercise here this week is just one example of this kind of demonstration.

It also demonstrates Airmen and training are more important than aircraft and technology. Since the dawn of airpower, it has taken courage and character to fight and win the nation’s wars. Airmen have always overcome seemingly insurmountable odds and obstacles. Throughout history, America’s fighting forces have repeatedly shown that when our nation needs something special, we have the will to develop special skills, plans, and tactics like the ones described above.

America’s fighting forces have proven their ability to ingress without being detected and wait for the right moment to strike. History reminds us that a single shot fired at the right time can galvanize a nation and its fighting spirit.

Whether we need to cross an ocean or claim the ultimate high ground in the skies above the enemy’s capital, America’s Citizen Air Commandos are using exercises like this one to prove they are ready now and transforming for the future.