Big Milestone For MQ-9 Reaper Drone! US Air Force Executes Integrated Combat Turns With A-10 Thunderbolt & MQ-9 UAV

In a groundbreaking display of military expertise, USAF aircraft maintainers recently demonstrated their exceptional skills by executing Integrated Combat Turns (ICT) to seamlessly transfer inert munitions from an A-10 Thunderbolt II to an MQ-9 Reaper drone. 

With both aircraft engines running on the ground, this process enabled rapid redeployment and combat readiness. In a statement, the service disclosed that the Operation, appropriately dubbed “Operation Bruiser,” took place on August 4 at the Battle Creek Air National Guard Base airfield. 

During the exercise, the airfield, which is typically vacant, witnessed a surge of activity as the MQ-9 Reaper and A-10 Thunderbolt II aircraft taxied onto the grounds. 

The two aircraft, the MQ-9 Reaper and the A-10 Thunderbolt II, were positioned in close proximity to each other, enabling the skilled maintainers to conduct refueling operations and transfer weapons from the A-10 to the MQ-9. 

Throughout this process, the engine of the US military drone was continuously running. The service acknowledged this event as a major milestone in the history of the MQ-9 Reaper, as no such operation had ever been conducted before.

Forging history with hot engines
Dual remote piloted MQ-9 Reapers and dual A-10 Thunderbolt II’s hot pit at the Battle Creek Air National Guard Base, Michigan, on August 4. Aircraft maintainers utilize Agile Combat Employment (ACE) to perform Integrated Combat Turns (ICT), demonstrating the ability to transfer inert munitions from the A-10 to rearm the MQ-9 while inspecting and refueling hot engines to redeploy aircraft for combat rapidly. USAF

US Air Force Lt Col. Jeffrey Campbell and sensor operator Senior Master Sgt. Robert Myers skillfully remote-piloted the unmanned MQ-9, known as “Battle,” from Fargo, North Dakota, to the Battle Creek ANGB (Air National Guard Base). 

Upon its arrival, the MQ-9 “Battle” was equipped with a specially customized tail flash, specifically modified for the Battle Creek ANGB to support the ACE (Agile Combat Employment) mission as part of the larger Northern Strike 23-2 exercise.

Northern Agility centers around the Air National Guard’s capacity to innovate and validate tactics, techniques, and procedures for future warfare. 

The primary emphasis is on Agile Combat Employment (ACE) capabilities, which aim to introduce complexity into an adversary’s decision-making process. 

The US Air Force has been actively working to bolster its ACE capabilities through a series of operations. For example, they conducted a notable four-day ACE exercise involving the MQ-9 Reaper in mid-June.

That exercise focused on evaluating basic launching, recovering, and refueling capabilities while operating from a location with minimal infrastructure and equipment. 

Integrated Combat Turn (ICT)

The Integrated Combat Turn (ICT) process represents a critical element within Agile Combat Employment. It showcases the capability to swiftly rearm, inspect, and refuel aircraft while keeping them “hot” and prepared for immediate take-off for their subsequent mission. 

This achievement necessitates coordination, effective communication, and highly trained personnel, executed flawlessly by aircraft maintainers.

By mastering the ICT process, the Air Force demonstrates its ability to maintain high operational readiness and agility.

Furthermore, the efficient and seamless procedure allows aircraft to rapidly return to action, minimizing downtime between missions and maximizing the overall effectiveness of their operations. 

“Today’s event showcased the interoperability between the A-10 and MQ-9, demonstrating an integrated combat turn while both aircraft had engines running,” said Master Sgt. Steven Jones, 172nd Attack Squadron sensor operator. “This is just a sample of what the men and women at the 110th Wing and the Air National Guard can accomplish.”

Dual remote piloted MQ-9 Reapers and dual A-10 Thunderbolt II’s hot pit at the Battle Creek Air National Guard Base, Michigan, on August 4.

Meanwhile, the service pointed out that over a year, Operation Bruiser evolved into a multifaceted concept through collaborative efforts involving various units from reserve and active components. 

The commitment of each component to their respective roles played a crucial role in achieving the objective of developing proficient airmen within five core functions: Air Superiority, Global Strike, Rapid Global Mobility, Intelligence Surveillance, Reconnaissance, and Command and Control, the USAF said. 

The training scenario presented an opportunity for collaboration, involving active participation from various units, including Battle Creek’s own 110th Operations Group, 172nd Attack Squadron, and 110th Logistics Squadron.

Air Force Col. Daniel Kamer, the 110th Wing Commander, expressed his elation and pride in the significance of this occasion for “the Battle Creek Air National Guard Base and the entire community.”

Recognizing the dedicated efforts of their personnel, he noted that having the MQ-9 as a part of the Northern Strike exemplifies a “groundbreaking” milestone. “We are thrilled to offer our base members the opportunity to witness this groundbreaking aircraft event up close,” he concluded. 

That said, the successful integration and utilization of Agile Combat Employment (ACE) and Integrated Combat Turns (ICT) extend beyond mere operational efficiency; they carry profound implications for future warfare strategies.