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Air Force Stands Up First Unmanned Aircraft Systems Wing

The MQ-9 Reaper taxies into Creech Air Force Base, Nev., home to the newly reactivated 432nd Wing. The 432nd Wing consists of six operations squadrons and a maintenance squadron for the Air Force fleet of 60 MQ-1 Predator and six MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial vehicles. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Larry E. Reid Jr.)
by Airman 1st Class Ryan Whitney
Nellis AFB NV (AFNS) May 07, 2007
The Air Force's first unmanned aircraft systems wing stood up May 1 at Creech Air Force Base, Nev. As Col. Christopher Chambliss assumed command of the 432nd, a piece of history was revived and a course for the way ahead continued.

"This is a monumental day for the Air Force," said Colonel Chambliss. "Having a wing dedicated to unmanned aircraft systems is a logical and important step in continuing the Air Force's role in being the world's greatest air and space power, and is equally critical to the Air Force's most important customers, the American warfighters."

The people of this wing have already proven themselves as key players in the war on terrorism, said the colonel who came to Creech AFB from Mountain Home AFB, Idaho, where he was the 366th Fighter Wing vice commander. "It is a great honor to assume command of such a fine group of Airmen as a new chapter in the 432nd is opened," he said.

The reactivation of this wing is a historic event, but it shouldn't be considered a starting point, the colonel said.

Forming an unmanned aircraft systems wing has been in the work for about four years, according to Colonel Chambliss.

"The new wing is an evolution in the Air Force's UAS program and provides the next step forward in medium- and high-altitude unmanned air systems," he said.

The Air Force's UASs have been a critical asset to the U.S. military since Operation Iraqi Freedom began. UASs have been "an unblinking eye that can pack a punch when necessary," said Colonel Chambliss, referring to the MQ-1 Predator's intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities coupled with its abilities to fire Hellfire missiles.

The MQ-9 Reaper is primarily a strike aerial, which has the surveillance capabilities of a Predator, but can fly faster, at a higher altitude and can carry almost 4,000 pounds of munitions. The Predator is a medium-altitude UAS that can fly up to 25,000 feet. The Reaper is able to fly up to 50,000 feet.

Both of these aircraft have the capability to find, track, and, if necessary, eliminate an enemy threat. "Coupled with the skill and experience of pilots from the world's most feared and respected Air Force, these aircraft are two of the most sought after aerial systems in combat," said Brig. Gen. William Rew, the 57th Wing commander.

"Although this standup is a landmark achievement for the Air Force and demonstrates our dedication to aiding the fight in the war on terrorism, for those who use the Air Force's UAS assets on a day-to-day basis -- the Soldiers, Marines, Sailors, and Airmen on the ground, and even the pilots flying the MQ-1's and MQ-9's -- this transition of authority will seem transparent," said Lt. Gen. Norman Seip, 12th Air Force commander.

"If yesterday we had flown 12 combat air patrols, then today the same people would be flying in support of the deployed forces throughout the world, the only difference being the patch on the pilot's shoulder," said General Seip.

The 432nd wing has six operational squadrons, one maintenance squadron, with six Reapers and 60 Predators. These squadrons are projected to fly 75,000 hours this year, 85 percent being combat operations, said Col. Eric Mathewson, who assumed command of the 432nd Operations Group. The Predator is currently being used in Operations Enduring and Iraqi Freedom for intelligence surveillance reconnaissance and tactical missions, flown by pilots and sensor operators in the United States.

Originally, the 432nd Observation Group was established to train cadre for new groups and wings. In 1954, it began training in tactical reconnaissance and in 1958 was re-designated as a wing. In 1966, the wing was assigned to Udorn, Thailand, where it flew both reconnaissance and tactical fighter missions over Southeast Asia.

In 1984, the 432nd was activated at Misawa Air Base, Japan. It remained there until deactivation in October 1994.

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