Creech AFB, Nev. (Vocus) February 25, 2009
Airmen of the 432d Air Expeditionary Wing made history Feb. 18, when an aircrew flew the MQ-1B Predator Unmanned Aircraft Systems in a combat mission in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility surpassing the 500,000 flight hour mark.
Members of the 15th Reconnaissance Squadron flew the milestone mission in support of operations in Iraq.
"A half-a-million flying hours is an amazing accomplishment and the Airmen of the 15th Reconnaissance Squadron are proud to be a part of this milestone," said Lt. Col. Ken Callahan, 15 RS director of operations. "The 15 RS currently flies 28 percent of all MQ-1B Predator combat air patrols over Iraq and Afghanistan and we're able to meet the needs of the Joint Force Commanders for this no-fail 24/7 combat ops mission because of the hard work and dedication of our total force team of active duty, Air Force Reserves and Air National Guard Airmen here."
Declared operational in 1995, the Predator's primary mission is to provide armed reconnaissance, airborne surveillance and target acquisition to commanders in the field. The Predator can be armed with two laser-guided AGM-114 Hellfire missiles and carries the Multispectral Targeting System, which integrates electro-optical, infrared, laser designator and laser illuminator into a single sensor package.
The capabilities of the Predator have made the aircraft a lethal and vital asset to the Global War on Terrorism, said Col. Chris Chambliss , 432d Wing and 432d Air Expeditionary Wing commander.
"The Predator is a perfect example of how UAS support is making a difference in the fight," said Colonel Chambliss. "With the increase in demands for this system, the Predator continues to provide our ground forces direct support with its unblinking eye and persistent stare, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. This 500,000 hour milestone proves how awesome this weapons system is."
The Predator fleet passed 250,000 hours in June 2007, after 12 years of flying. It only took a year and eight months to fly the additional 250,000 hours due to continuous demand for the aircraft by combatant commanders.
Colonel Christopher Coombs, commander of the 703rd Aeronautical Systems Group commander, which oversees the Predator and Reaper programs, said members of the Air Force Materiel Command and General Atomics Aeronautical Systems have worked aggressively to deliver the Predator weapon system and the recent milestone is a result of a good partnership.
"The (Predator) program's success has been a testament to outstanding teamwork and American ingenuity and innovation, fueled by a desire to not settle for anything less than delivering the most reliable weapons systems to the members of our Armed Forces when called upon to achieve national security objectives," Colonel Coombs said. "The warfighter needed additional support in their arsenal, we surged our efforts to meet the requirements for UAS capability, allowing for increased combat air patrols leading to this milestone event."
Along with providing a lethal weapons system, Lt. Gen. Norman Seip , 12th Air Force commander, said the Predator's success is directly attributed to the Airmen who fly, operate and maintain it.
"This milestone is a testament to the continued dedication and perseverance of the men and women of the 432d Wing," said Lt. Gen. Norman Seip, the Twelfth Air Force (Air Forces Southern) commander. "The exponential growth of UAS weapons systems, Creech AFB and the 432d Wing has translated into a new era of combat operations - sustained support for ground operations, real-time intelligence collection and the ability to reach out to and affect the enemy at will."
The success of the Predator is nothing short of a success story, said Lt. Gen. Gary North , Combined Forces Air Component Commander and U.S. Air Force's Central commander.
"The predator weapon system and its Airmen ... from the launch crews in the AOR (Area of Responsibility) to those that fly the extended mission from distributed sites throughout the U.S. and the DCGS (Distributed Common Ground System) crews that process the video are in one word ... remarkable," said General North. "The persistent stare of the predator and the deadly persistence, when attack criteria is met, have consistently been a key part of the commander's weapons systems matrix to enable combat successes on the battlefield."
With the success rate of the Predator, Gen. John D.W. Corley, the commander of Air Combat Command, said it's clear Airmen have stepped up to the challenges of meeting the insatiable demand for the Predator.
"Airmen are 'all in' the global, joint and combined operations protecting our nation and assuring our allies. Today, UAS Airmen are operating the Predator more than 19,000 hours per month and more than 95 percent of those hours are flown in support of combat operations in Southwest Asia," General Corley said. The Predator's half million hour milestone is but one example of our Airmen's contributions in the full spectrum of counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency operations."
Currently there are more than 30 MQ-1B Predator combat air patrols flying 24/7, 365 days a year over Iraq and Afghanistan.
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