Shaw Reaper group is in holding pattern

Deployment awaiting completion of an environmental assessment

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Shaw Air Force Base remains the preferred location for an MQ-9 Reaper group, according to Deputy Base Civil Engineer Christopher Aamold. The assessment is scheduled to be complete on Nov. 30, he said.

The group includes personnel who operate the unmanned aircraft, but the aircraft will be deployed at other locations, not at Shaw.

Aamold said the environmental assessment at Shaw is on schedule and is in a 30-day comment period, part of a detailed timeline the assessments must follow. Assessments are being done at Shaw and five other bases, he said.

"It looks like there are no issues at any of the locations," he said.

Once the assessments are complete and if Shaw is chosen to house the group, as is expected, activity at Shaw will pick up considerably, Aamold said.

First on base will be an advance team to assist in standing up the group, or "catching the stuff," Aamold said.

To the casual observer, the original operational setup won't be impressive from the outside. Two-man pilot and sensor operator teams will control the Reapers remotely from six shipping containers near the current Third Army Headquarters in Patton Hall.

Inside the containers is an array of computers and "a whole bunch of computer screens" as well as heating and air conditioning, he said.

"The heaters are rarely used because the computer equipment gives off a lot of heat," Aamold remarked.

Each unit also has an electric generator for back-up power, he said.

Information from the units at Shaw will typically be sent via land lines to Europe, Aamold said, where it is then transmitted to orbital satellites, then sent to the aircraft and related operation at whatever remote site they are located.

A more substantial and permanent building for the group is in the planning stages, Aamold said, but it has not yet been funded for construction.

The entire group could be at Shaw in the summer of 2018, Aamold said. He said the deployment to Shaw will include 378 airmen in the group, 44 contractors, 18 security personnel and 47 support personnel for a total of 487 people.

Members of the group who are deployed to Shaw will be handled no differently from other Shaw personnel, he said, with single, unaccompanied airmen eligible for housing in the base dormitories and others eligible to house in on- or off-base housing.

"The intent is to bring them into the fold," he said.

Aamold said moving the Reaper group to Shaw is part of an effort to improve the quality of life for members of the group, many of whom make a 45-mile commute from Las Vegas to Creech Air Force Base.

"Folks are getting burned out; it's a long day," he said.

He said the Air Force intends to provide more time off for group personnel, not only for personal time, but also to participate in other Air Force required training and other activities.

Aamold said several planning sessions have already taken place at Shaw, and a team visited the base from Nevada to do a site survey. In addition, a site activation taskforce will be at Shaw next week to do a design review for the not-yet-funded military construction.

According to an Air Force fact sheet, the MQ-9 Reapers are armed, remotely piloted aircraft employed primarily against "dynamic execution targets" and secondarily as an intelligence collection asset.

"It provides a unique capability to perform strike, coordination and reconnaissance against high-value, fleeting and time-sensitive targets," the fact sheet says.

The MQ-9 can carry four laser-guided, air-to-ground 114 Hellfire missiles and is also part of a system that supports strike aircraft and ground commanders by acquiring and tracking targets or providing other intelligence, the fact sheet says.