The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) has activated MQ-9 Reaper remotely piloted aircraft for imagery support in wildland fire fighting, according to a recent U.S. Air Force news release.
At the request of the National Interagency Fire Center and upon approval by the DoD, U.S. Northern Command activated the 432nd to provide Incident Awareness and Assessment support using the MQ-9 aircraft to aid civil authorities in California.
As noted by the Air Force, this is the first time active-duty aircraft from the 432nd have supported in a Defense Support of Civil Authorities capacity.
Operating in strict accordance with all federal laws and governmental policies, the MQ-9 aircrews were able to provide real-time video to map fire perimeters and alert first responders of the spread and potential impact of the fires, proximity to infrastructure or buildings, and containment.
“The 432nd’s ‘near-real-time’ support to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) enhanced both agencies’ ability to move limited resources quickly to protect lives, save property, and be postured for next day operations,” said Lt. Gen. Kirk Pierce, commander, First Air Force, Air Forces Northern (AFNORTH). “Our hearts go out to the many people affected by these devastating fires. Supporting the men and women on the front line, as they fight fires and save lives, is a humbling experience.”
Beginning Sept. 26 and concluding Oct. 17, 2020, aircrews stationed at Creech AFB clocked more than 120 hours of flight time and video capture of the Glass, August Complex, Bear and Zogg fires.
The Incident Awareness and Assessment missions provided appropriate local, state and federal authorities situational awareness of what was occurring on the ground in regards to the wildfires.
The turboprop-powered, multi-mission MQ-9 remotely piloted aircraft was developed by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. funding and first flown in 2001.
The MQ-9 Reaper is an armed, multi-mission, medium-altitude, long-endurance remotely piloted aircraft that is employed primarily against dynamic execution targets and secondarily as an intelligence collection asset. Given its significant loiter time, wide-range sensors, multi-mode communications suite, and precision weapons — it provides a unique capability to perform strike, coordination, and reconnaissance against high-value, fleeting, and time-sensitive targets.