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MQ-9 Reaper keeps eyes on targets

From executing deliberate strikes to performing close air support and complete aerial reconnaissance, the Air Force is taking a new approach to the multirole capacity of the MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aircraft.

Airmen assigned to the 62nd Expeditionary Attack Squadron reposition a panel on the MQ-9 Reaper during repairs at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, Nov. 16, 2018. The MQ-9 Reaper, an unmanned aircraft, is utilized to perform close air support and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airmen Kaylee Dubois)

From executing deliberate strikes to performing close air support and complete aerial reconnaissance, the Air Force is taking a new approach to the multirole capacity of the MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aircraft.

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Trevor Stefani, 62nd Expeditionary Attack Squadron assistant dedicated crew chief, repairs an MQ-9 Reaper at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, Nov. 16, 2018. The MQ-9 Reaper can perform a mission for nearly an entire day before needing to refuel. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airmen Kaylee Dubois)

From executing deliberate strikes to performing close air support and complete aerial reconnaissance, the Air Force is taking a new approach to the multirole capacity of the MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aircraft.

An Airman assigned to the 62nd Expeditionary Attack Squadron screws in a panel on the MQ-9 Reaper during maintenance at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, Nov. 16, 2018. For launch and recovery, a satellite fixed to the ground helps the MQ-9 team to carefully land the multi-role asset without the worry of delay. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airmen Kaylee Dubois)

From executing deliberate strikes to performing close air support and complete aerial reconnaissance, the Air Force is taking a new approach to the multirole capacity of the MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aircraft.

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Taylor Kublitz, 62nd Expeditionary Attack Squadron assistant dedicated crew chief, screws in a panel on the MQ-9 Reaper during repairs at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, Nov. 16, 2018. MQ-9 pilots and sensor operators can continuously swap-out during a mission to enable fresh eyes to stay on the job. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airmen Kaylee Dubois)

From executing deliberate strikes to performing close air support and complete aerial reconnaissance, the Air Force is taking a new approach to the multirole capacity of the MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aircraft.

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Taylor Kublitz, 62nd Expeditionary Attack Squadron assistant dedicated crew chief, poses in front of an MQ-9 Reaper at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, Nov. 16, 2018. The 62nd EATKS at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan operates the largest fleet of MQ-9s in the world performing launch and recovery assets. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airmen Kaylee Dubois)

KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan -- From executing deliberate strikes to performing close air support and complete aerial reconnaissance, the Air Force is taking a new approach to the multirole capacity of the MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aircraft.

The 62nd Expeditionary Attack Squadron at Kandahar Airfield operates the largest fleet of MQ-9s in the world performing launch and recovery assets. 

With missions lasting almost an entire day, the ability to switch out pilots and new sensors in shifts enables the team to be on top of their game bringing the fight to the enemy, said U.S. Air Force Capt. Aileen Herrera, 62nd EATKS pilot. The mission has two facets, she added. 

“There is launch and recovery and the mission control side of the house,” the captain said. “For our side, you need to have line of sight to safely launch and land and the aircraft, but once we get above a certain altitude, we release the controls to crews back stateside.” 

The MQ-9 utilizes satellites in space to perform their main mission. However, an antenna fixed to the ground provides the launch and recovery team to carefully land the multi-role asset without the worry of delay. 

“We are here because during the critical phases of flight between taking off and landing, you do not want any delay,” said Senior Airman Stephen Kong, 62nd EATKS sensor operator. “The delay could be detrimental to the aircraft and could possibly cost you your job.” 

Kong works the camera sensors at the bottom of the aircraft performing the vital role of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. Moreover, Herrera sees him as her co-pilot. The MQ-9 allows enlisted aircrew the unique role of being a part of the strike phase, Herrera said. 

“I can’t do my mission, my job, without them doing theirs,” she added. “I think that’s one of the greatest opportunities for these Airmen. I mean, [Kong’s] my co-pilot, how many enlisted co-pilots are there in the Air Force?” 

Each part of the MQ-9, deployed or stateside, is imperative to the success of the mission in Afghanistan, with troops on the ground noting the importance of the asset. 

“When we are not flying, the troops on the ground are calling to see how soon we can get back up there,” said Herrera. “You can really see the impact we have throughout the area, and it feels great knowing our Airmen are appreciated.”