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MQ-9 Reapers Heading to Florida as Air Force Expands Drone Fleet

A U.S. MQ-9 Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) Reaper taxis at the Mahe International Airport after completing its mission November 4, 2009. Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, will be the next U.S. Air Force base to receive MQ-9s for ISR missions. (U.S. Air Force photo by Major Eric Hilliard, U.S. Africa Command)
A U.S. MQ-9 Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) Reaper taxis at the Mahe International Airport after completing its mission November 4, 2009. Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, will be the next U.S. Air Force base to receive MQ-9s for ISR missions. (U.S. Air Force photo by Major Eric Hilliard, U.S. Africa Command)

Two dozen MQ-9 ‘hunter killer’ remotely piloted aircraft are heading to the panhandle of Florida as part of a new Reaper wing at Tyndall Air Force base.

The Air Force on Tuesday said the wing will also house an operations group with mission control elements, launch and recovery and a maintenance group.

“We selected Tyndall Air Force Base because it was the best location to meet the unique requirements of the MQ-9 Reaper,” Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said in a release.

“Remotely piloted aircraft and the intelligence capabilities supporting them remain vital to our national security and the security of our allies,” added Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David  Goldfein.

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“Equally important is the increasing use of RPAs in defense of the homeland and response to humanitarian disaster as we have seen recently with hurricanes and wildfires,” he said.

“Co-locating this wing with [U.S. Northern Command’s] Air Operations Center and 1st Air Force will bring increased capability to support Gen. Lori Robinson in addition to increasing lethality and giving our other combatant commanders the best trained operators possible,” he added.

A handful of airmen at Air Forces Northern Air Force Rescue Coordination Center, located at Tyndall, dispatch resources at the request of a state or federal entity, as well as government agencies in Mexico and Canada — which includes drone search-and-rescue flights.

Wilson said Tyndall’s selection not only means sunny weather, but the area overall contributes to fewer aircraft competing for airspace, and additional access to nearby training ranges. All these factors could save the service money, she said.

Tyndall also meets the goals of Air Combat Command’s Culture and Process Improvement Plan, “which identified the need for additional basing locations to help diversify assignment opportunities for personnel within the MQ-9 enterprise, provide increased opportunities for leadership from within the community, and provide flexibility to enhance integration with other warfighter organizations and capabilities,” the release said.

After an environmental study is complete for Tyndall, airmen working the General Atomics-made MQ-9 could begin arriving as early as 2020. The MQ-9 drones should be stationed at the base around 2022, the release said.

“I have long advocated for the Air Force to base the MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aircraft in Florida, so I am very pleased it decided to do so,” said Sen. Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida, following the decision.

“We look forward to welcoming 24 new aircraft and the more than 1,600 airmen and their families who will soon call the Florida panhandle area home,” he said in a statement.

In January, the service said that Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina, will host a new MQ-9 Reaper group, but only for mission control elements.

Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, will remain as an alternative option to Tyndall, the service said.

The decision comes as the Air Force is pushing to move to an all MQ-9 Reaper remotely piloted combat aircraft fleet following the planned retirement of the MQ-1 Predator in 2018.

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