Report Composed by A Khokar
CREECH AIR FORCE BASE, Nevada (CNN) — From a desert outpost northwest of Las Vegas, elite fighter pilots journey to a war zone in Afghanistan, some 7,500 miles away.
The Air Force’s new unmanned bomber, the “Reaper,” commutes from Nevada to Afghanistan and FATA area targets in Pakistan.
It might be the world’s longest commute, except that these armchair pilots at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada never leave the air-conditioned comfort of their command center.
Air Force pilots are employing remotely controlled fighter-bomber aircraft — known in military parlance as unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs — to fly combat missions over Afghanistan, hunting for insurgents bent on undermining Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s fragile government.
This is the future of aerial combat.
Sitting in a virtual cockpit is not as exciting as flying a fighter jet, but unmanned attack-plane pilots can enjoy a normal workday schedule — more or less. Watch the Reaper at work »
“Seeing bad guys on the screen and watching them possibly get dispatched, and then going down to the Taco Bell for lunch, it’s kind of surreal,” says Captain Matt Dean.
The original drone was the “Predator,” armed with a pair of Hellfire missiles. It was followed by its bigger and far more lethal cousin, “the Reaper,” which carries four times as much firepower. The Reaper can carry the same bomb load as an F-16 fighter plane, but its pilots are not put in harm’s way.
The Air Force once employed jerry-rigged missiles strapped to unmanned spy planes. Now military commanders see remotely piloted aircraft as the model for the way future wars will be fought.
For over a year, Reapers have been flying two separate round-the-clock patrols over eastern Afghanistan, controlled from the Creech AFB command center, which has been strictly off-limits to the media until now.
Reaper pilots so far this year have launched 64 missiles and dropped seven 500-pound bombs in Afghanistan.
Originally a spy plane, the Predator was converted to a strike aircraft shortly after the September 11, 2001, attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center. Air Force technicians strapped two Hellfire missiles — one under each wing — and turned the unarmed “surveillance platform” into a remote-controlled killing machine.
By the weekend following September 11, the Predator’s operators believe they had Taliban leader Mullah Omar in their sights, but never got the authorization to pull the trigger.
Nonetheless, from that experience a new strategy was born — one of employing an increasing fleet of armed, unmanned aircraft. Unmanned spy planes have always provided an unblinking eye in the sky, but now they offer untiring combat capability, too.
The pilots stay safe and rotate in shifts to prevent fatigue, guiding incredibly lightweight planes that can stay aloft for more than a day at a time. Even after some 30 hours of flying time, upkeep of UAVs is minimal when compared with that of F-16s.
“Sometimes it’s a matter of putting gas in it and it goes right back up,” says Master Sgt. Aaron Hauser, who oversees daily maintenance of the Predator fleet at Creech. “It’s a far simpler aircraft to maintain, and that’s the whole point.”
The success of this new concept of aerial power has created a huge demand for the aircraft. Every commander wants one, but there aren’t nearly enough to go around.
U.S. building bases in Afghanistan to aid drones
A crew checks an MQ-9 Reaper before it takes off for a mission in Afghanistan.
WASHINGTON — The Pentagon is building a series of air bases in eastern Afghanistan as part of its massive expansion of a system that uses drone aircraft to spy on and attack Taliban insurgents, according to interviews and documents.
In Afghanistan, harsh winters and a lack of airstrips near the fighting can hinder drone flights. It can take as long as three hours for a drone to reach battlefields, particularly in the rugged mountain area near the border with Pakistan. That area has seen some of the toughest fighting for U.S. troops. By contrast, it can take as little as 10 minutes for a drone to reach hot spots in Baghdad because the Iraqi capital has more air bases, said Dyke Weatherington, deputy director of the Pentagon’s unmanned aerial systems task force.
“What the (Pentagon) is trying to do is go in and develop bases closer to those areas that we know we’re going to have a sustained presence after a long period of time,” Weatherington said. “In fact, recently we set up a couple of additional bases closer to the Pakistan border that cut down those transit times.”
Col. Greg Julian, a military spokesman in Afghanistan, said in an e-mail that the military is adding more bases to accommodate drones and additional troops.
The military is developing drones with better de-icing systems to help deal with the Afghan winters, he said.
Armchair UAV Pilots Striking Afghanistan in Las Vegas, Taco Bell Fuelled Comfort
Posted by Sean Fallon at 8:40 AM on July 10, 2008
We all know about how the military is utilising UAV’s in an ever increasing amount of missions. And why not? Unmanned aircraft represent a safer and more cost efficient approach to aerial combat. However, we rarely get to see what it is like on the other side of these aircraft—to see the job through the eyes of a UAV pilot. Apparently, it’s much like any other job–except you get to kill things in Afghanistan from the air-conditioned Creech Air Force Base in Nevada.
In an interview with CNN, Captain Matt Dean noted that “Seeing bad guys on the screen and watching them possibly get dispatched, and then going down to the Taco Bell for lunch, it’s kind of surreal.” In fact, their entire workday is fairly normal with shifts that rotate around the clock to prevent fatigue. Seems pretty cushy…if blowing terrorists up doesn’t make you lose your appetite for the cheesy gordita crunch that is. [CNN]