The Air National Guard’s three operational MQ-1 Predator unmanned aerial vehicle units in Arizona, California, and North Dakota are providing at least seven overseas combat air patrols around the clock for operations in Southwest Asia. Under the Air Force’s initial plans for this new Air Guard mission, each ANG unit would have flown one CAP, but increasing demand (see above) for the Predator’s dual long-loiter reconnaissance and attack capability has led the Air Force to increase the Predator workload, put every available UAV pilot at a console, and up training. That has prompted, for instance, Lt. Col. Rick Gibney, commander of the North Dakota ANG’s 178th Reconnaissance Squadron in Fargo, to put himself back in the MQ-1 aircrew rotation so that the other pilots in his squadron can have some time off. According to Col. Robert Becklund, commander of the NDANG’s 119th Wing, which oversees the Predator operations, some two-thirds of his wing’s former F-16 pilots opted to retrain for the UAV role. Despite the hectic pace and not flying in an actual cockpit, Becklund said, “We know that Predator is critical to the nation’s defense.” The 178th RS flew its first CAP in June 2007 and added a second earlier this year. The California ANG’s 196th RS flew the Air Guard’s first Predator CAP in 2006 and now maintains three CAPs from its March ARB, Calif., facility. The Arizona ANG’s 214th Recon Group began flying CAPs in July 2007. The Air Guard is adding another Predator unit in Texas and creating its first MQ-9 Reaper squadron in New York. (Includes National Guard Bureau report by MSgt. Mike Smith)
U.S. Air Force F-35s and F-22s regularly deploy deep into the Pacific region from Alaska, Utah, and Hawaii. In the future, though, the head of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command would like to see the Air Force permanently station fifth-generation aircraft west of the international date line—closer to China.