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111th Attack Wing reaches MQ-9 initial operational capability

An MQ- Reaper remotely piloted aircraft performs aerial maneuvers over Creech Air Force Base, Nev., June 25, 2015. The MQ-9 Reaper is an armed, multi-mission, medium-altitude, long-endurance remotely piloted aircraft that is employed primarily as an intelligence-collection asset and secondarily against dynamic execution targets. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Cory D. Payne/Released)

An MQ-9 Reaper remotely piloted aircraft performs aerial maneuvers over Creech Air Force Base, Nev., June 25, 2015. The MQ-9 Reaper is an armed, multi-mission, medium-altitude, long-endurance remotely piloted aircraft that is employed primarily as an intelligence-collection asset and secondarily against dynamic execution targets. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Cory D. Payne)

HORSHAM AIR GUARD STATION, Pa. -- The 103rd Attack Squadron of the Pennsylvania National Guard officially reached initial operational capability with the launch of its first combat air patrol (CAP) here yesterday.

Of the people involved in the 103rd Attack Squadron mission, almost all are Pennsylvania Air National Guard members, with the rest being civilian contractors who help maintain the mission systems.

"With the launch of this first CAP, we can now consider our 103rd Attack Squadron and remotely piloted aircraft mission operational," said Col. William Griffin, 111th Attack Wing air commander. "As National Guardsmen, we face some complications that Air Force unit might not face, but... we will work through the obstacles and remain an efficient and effective force."

Col. Michael Shenk, 111th Operations Group commander, briefly described the mission and his outlook for the wing's new mission.

"Basically, a CAP for intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) or persistent attack and reconnaissance missions is one aircraft overlooking one area for a specific time period," said Shenk. "My confidence is high that we'll be performing a successful MQ-9 Reaper operation. I'm excited for the Wing and the operations group to be able to finally stop preparing to execute a mission and actually execute the mission."

Fulfilling air operations from Horsham AGS again has been a long-awaited function for many of the Air National Guardsmen here. The installation endured a Base Realignment and Closure that saw the departure of the last A-10 Thunderbolt II aircraft in 2010.

In 2013, the 103rd ATKS received word of their new mission. Little more than three years later, the wing is now home to MQ-9 pilots, sensor operators and intelligence coordinators who control the aircraft, as well as a full complement of professional Airman who support the mission.

"We started off with one person and we grew an organization that built itself up with the help of most, if not all, of the units on base," said Shenk. "Every person on base has had some hand in this."

He stated that the 111th Communications Squadron and the 270th Engineering Installation Squadron here proved especially invaluable in realizing the mission.

"The 270th EIS was selected to lead other RPA units as they convert or stand up," Shenk said. "If we'd had any other organization working on our infrastructure aside from the 270th, I don't think we'd be where we are today. The 111th Communications Flight superintendent and his team have just knocked it out as far the requirements for communications. Again, I feel if we didn't have the team we do, we wouldn't be where we are today."

Shenk also noted that the National Guard Bureau was instrumental in assisting with helping the unit obtain necessary resources.

But with the excitement of a new beginning comes unfamiliar and unforeseen challenges to tackle.

"Standing up this mission is significant for us and the Air National Guard for many reasons," said Griffin. "Not only is the RPA mission considerable in itself, it also brings new dynamics, issues and concerns that we'd never faced before. As a wing, we're going to have to preserve the ability to remain flexible, anticipate barriers and work together to provide sustained air power to the combatant commanders."

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