The U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa (USAFE-AFAFRICA) achieved a significant technological proof of concept for the MQ-9A Reaper’s Satellite Launch and Recovery Package (SLR-P) at the 12th Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Air Base in Miroslawiec, Poland. While various iterations of the concept have surfaced in different contexts, the SLR-P offers a compact, “wallet-sized” innovation poised to launch and recover the MQ-9A at strategic theater locations situated in some of the most rugged, remote outposts in Europe. This marks a departure from conventional practices that necessitated returning to home stations for basic level maintenance. Tailored specifically for the European and African theaters, the SLR-P consists of a small, mobile container with an inventory list finely tuned to address the unique operational requirements and environmental nuances of each specific region. The container, designed to be highly mobile, can be retrofitted with its own wheels to be towed or be carried by any means of available transportation.
“We live in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world, which means it takes an innovative and motivated group of people – like what you see here – to influence change and propel us into the future. With this technology, we’re putting the ‘A’ in ‘ACE’ (Agile Combat Employment) for the MQ-9A,” said Maj. Philip “Flip” West, USAFE-AFAFRICA project lead.
“Empowering multi-capable Airmen is what we do every day. The creation of the CRG 25 years ago aimed to extend air power beyond our main bases. While our primary mission is supporting mobility operations, we’ve adapted our capabilities to respond to what the Air Force, and specifically what USAFE, needs. Today, we’re launching and recovering MQ-9As, but tomorrow it could be F-16s, and the next day, C-17s. Whatever the requirement, the 435th CRG remains light, lean and lethal to support,” said Col. Robert Rayner, commander of the 435th CRG.
One of the most dramatic impacts of this concept is to reduce the “boots on the ground” needed to operate and maintain precision aircraft. Where traditional remotely-piloted operations required teams of 30 to 150 personnel, the SLR-P can execute with a lean crew of just eight multi-capable Airmen. This lean crew of multiple capable Airmen came from USAFE-AFAFRICA’s 435th Contingency Response Group. The SLR-P’s integration with satellite technology also ushers in a new era of connectivity and maintenance efficiency. This capability facilitates rapid power-up of the MQ-9A and seamless satellite link establishment, minimizing pre-mission preparations. By simplifying maintenance functions, the SLR-P allows the maintenance team to focus solely on essential tasks, leading to reduced downtime and heightened mission readiness. This successful proof of concept not only marks the emergence of a new era in remotely piloted operations, but it also highlights the steadfast dedication of both the U.S. and Poland to shared security goals and technological progress.
This proof of concept notably commenced amidst challenging weather conditions. Under typical circumstances, the mission for the day might have been canceled; however, the weather in Poland proved to be favorable for testing the system’s resilience, prompting the team to make a pivotal choice—executing a weather diversion to this new field or returning the MQ-9A back to its home station. Airmen stationed with the Pennsylvania Air National Guard undertook a task unprecedented at this airfield, achieving a milestone that holds immense significance. In the process, they officially designated this location as a future alternate launch site, particularly in periods of adverse weather. Poland now stands as destination for America’s most powerful, capable aircraft, ready to serve as an alternate launch location during times of inclement weather. This development further underscores the adaptability and resilience that characterize this transformative proof of concept.