Eglin, Tyndall among finalists for new drone wing

Tyndall Air Force Base and Eglin Air Force Base are among the finalists for a new MQ-9 Reaper wing. A decision on which base gets the drone wing, along with up to 24 unmanned aerial vehicles might come as early as this winter.

WASHINGTON (WJHG/WECP)-- Two northwest Florida Air Force bases are among finalists for a new drone wing, which could feature up to 24 aircraft and more jobs for the area.

According to an article on Air Force News Service from September 8, 2016, Eglin AFB and Tyndall AFB are in the running to house a new wing of the MQ-9 "Reaper" drones. Eglin and Tyndall are competing against Vandenberg AFB in California and Shaw AFB in South Carolina.

MQ-9 Reapers are unmanned aerial vehicles, commonly called drones, which are made by General Atomics. The Reaper is the first hunter-killer UAV designed for long-endurance high-altitude surveillance.

Whichever base gets the Reaper wing will, according to Air Force Times, "include both a launch and recovery element and a mission control element, as well as a maintenance group and operations support personnel. That location is expected to have up to 24 MQ-9 aircraft assigned."

“We are using the strategic basing process to determine the best locations for hosting additional locations for the MQ-9 mission,” said Jennifer L. Miller, the deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force for installations. “As we go through the basing process, we will use the information we collect to help us determine the affordability and potential locations for expanding the MQ-9 enterprise.”

Air Combat Command will now conduct site surveys at all locations. Site survey teams will assess each location against requirements, potential impacts to existing missions, infrastructure and manpower. They will also develop cost estimates to bed down the planned units.

Based on the results of these efforts, the Air Force plans to select the preferred alternatives as early as the winter of 2016. Final basing decisions will be made by the secretary of the Air Force after the requisite environmental analysis is complete.

The Reaper has a 66 ft wingspan, and a maximum payload of nearly two tons, the MQ-9 can be armed with a variety of weapons, including Hellfire missiles and 500-lb laser-guided bomb units. It can fly up to 30 hours when doing just surveillance, or up to 23 hours if it's loaded with weapons.

The Reaper has a range of 1,000 nautical miles and an operational altitude of 50,000 ft which makes it especially useful for long-term loitering operations, both for surveillance and support of ground troops.