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The Reapers have arrived. This time to Romania

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Drones from terrorist hunters can turn into rocket hunters

American winged "predators" - first reconnaissance and strike drones MQ-1 " Predeytor "(Predator, translated from English – "Predator"), and now MQ-9 " Reaper "(Reaper; translated – "Reaper", that is, "collector of souls") – gradually capture all new habitats in Eastern Europe, in the immediate vicinity of the borders of Russia. Starting with "guest visits" to a number of countries in the region, combat drones have already received permanent registration in Poland and Romania. And the appearance of them somewhere else is, as it seems, only a matter of time.

One of the first American reconnaissance and strike drones was adopted by Latvia. In August-September 2015, a pair of MQ-1 Predator drones and about 70 military personnel from the 147th Reconnaissance Wing of the Texas Air National Guard (assigned to Ellington Field, Texas) arrived at the Latvian Air Force Base Lielvarde to assess the unit's capabilities for long-range operational transfer in support of NATO operations.

It is possible that the choice for this air base did not fall by chance: in 2007-2014, a major modernization was carried out there, including the construction of a modern runway and taxiways.

"This will allow you to check the level of mobility, maintenance and work of specialists in the organization of air transportation," Lieutenant Colonel Christopher Reker, a representative of the operational department of the headquarters of the US Air Force Command in Europe and Africa, pointed out at the time.

At the same time, he emphasized that this is not a one-time experience and after the approval of all procedures, this schedule can be used in the future for the transfer of other units. "We have developed a plan for the use of airspace, which is designed for a long period, so if we need to return, it will be at our disposal," said Lieutenant Colonel Reker.

However, it was still a one-time action, but on a permanent basis, Poland was the first to host the "inhuman" patrol: on March 1, 2018, a unit of drones of the MQ-9 "Riper" Block V type from the 2nd detachment of the 52nd expeditionary operations group, located at the Polish 12th Miroslawiec Air Force base, was declared to have reached initial operational readiness, and from May 29, the Reapers began regular flights.

"Home" for drones

Miroslavets Air Base is located in the north-western part of Poland, in the West Pomeranian Voivodeship, and is assigned to the 1st Tactical Air Wing of the Polish Air Force (since 2004, the Polish Air Force is officially called). Its main specialization is the provision of basing and combat operation of drones for various purposes, which are already in operation by the Polish Armed Forces or will enter service in the foreseeable future. In this regard, in a number of sources, "Miroslavets" at one time was even called not otherwise than the 12th air base of unmanned aerial vehicles.

And, interestingly, initially the plans for the military construction of the Polish Air Forces provided for already in 2014 to replace the outdated Su-22M4K and Su-22UM3K fighter-bombers of Soviet production with new reconnaissance and strike drones, which, however, were not to be stationed in Miroslavets, but at the 21st tactical air base in Svidvin (where the "drying" was based), where the headquarters of the Polish 1st tactical air wing is located.

But then the financiers intervened: due to difficulties with the allocation of budget funds to get rid of the" Soviet legacy", then they decided to wait a little, and the purchase of a large batch of drones was postponed. Well, in order, apparently, to further protect themselves from the "insidious Moscow", Warsaw decided to invite the American "Reapers". Fortunately, those have a very rich experience with conducting reconnaissance and destroying objectionable NATO "objects".

From Romania, the "Riper" with bombs and missiles can fly to Moscow. Photo from the site www.af.mil

Moreover, according to made at the time by representatives of the American command said that the flight "the Reapers" with the Polish base, carried out "in full coordination with the Polish government" was seen as "a clear expression of U.S. efforts to strengthen regional stability." How large drones, capable of carrying a wide range of guided weapons, can strengthen this very stability, the generals did not explain. Moreover, they did not report that the "Reapers" did not actually belong to the Air Force (more on this below). But it was said that $ 40 million was allocated from the funds of the European Security Initiative program to base these drones in Poland.

However, some American military leaders did not hide the true reasons for the deployment of drones in Poland. So, the Supreme Commander of the Joint Armed Forces of NATO and the head of the Central Command of the US Armed Forces, General Tod Walters, in an interview with Air Force Magazine in March 2019, said that this event will "improve our understanding of the combat space around Poland, as well as the Baltic States."

"This is the whole goal – to increase our ability to detect and prevent (danger), so that if necessary, we can respond faster than ever in the past, and the deployment of the MQ-9 will allow us to do this," stressed General Walters, who previously headed the US Air Force Command in Europe and therefore knows well what he is talking about.

"Inhuman" guardian

What are the "Reapers"? They are a further development of the family of American reconnaissance and reconnaissance-strike drones RQ/MQ-1 "Predeytor" and belong to the class of drones of medium altitude and long flight duration (MALE – Medium-Altitude Long-Endurance). About 200 such vehicles are in service with the US Armed Forces, and up to 276 vehicles will be purchased in total, which will remain in service until the 2030s. However, it is possible that the increased tension in relations between Washington and a number of countries around the world will serve as a reason to increase purchases of MQ-9.

In the basic version, the "Reaper" has a length of about 11 m, and its wingspan reaches 20 m. The empty drone weighs about 2220 kg, while its maximum take-off weight can reach 4760 kg. The power plant is a single 900-horsepower engine powered by a pushing propeller and allows the drone to accelerate in the air to 480-482 km/h. The drone can "hang" in the air for up to 27 hours, and its upgraded version, the MQ-9 "Reaper" ER (ER – Extended Range, that is, "extended range"), can be in the air for up to 42 hours.

The Reaper is capable of flying at a range of almost 2000 km, carrying on board about 1700 kg of payload, including weapons placed on seven nodes of the external suspension: guided missiles of the AGM-114 "Hellfire" family (Hellfire – "Hellfire" or " Hellfire (inferno)"), guided aerial bombs of the GBU-12 "Paveway II" (Paveway II) with laser guidance and/or corrected aerial bombs of the GBU-38 JDAM family. The tasks of reconnaissance and surveillance, as well as weapons control, are solved by drones with the help of a wide range of modern optoelectronic and radio-electronic equipment placed on their board.

Finally, in the fall of 2020, the United States began testing the Reaper for the possibility of using guided air-to-air missiles of the AIM-9X "Sidewinder" Block 2 type: it was reported that the drone successfully shot down a BQM-167 target with such a missile, which imitated an enemy cruise missile. In other words, drones can turn from terrorist hunters into missile hunters in the foreseeable future!

Lieutenant General Daniel Petrescu speaks at the 71st Air Base while receiving US strike drones. Photo from the site www.af.mil

To protect the interests of the United States and its allies

After Poland, another Eastern European country joined the Pentagon's partners: exactly a year ago, in January 2020, American "Reapers" began combat duty on the territory of Romania. However, unlike the Polish episode of their service in this region, the deployment of the 2nd detachment of the 52nd expeditionary Operations Group equipped with "Soul Collectors" at the 71st air Base of the Romanian Air Force "Campia Turzii" was carried out purely on a temporary basis. This was then reported by the official representative of the US Air Force Command in Europe, Lieutenant Colonel Davina Peterman.

"Regardless of whether the MQ-9s are operating from Poland or Romania, their mission remains the same: to provide intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance in order to support the foreign policy of the United States and our regional security partners, as well as to provide valuable data necessary to ensure the protection of US troops and those of our international partners, "Lieutenant Colonel Peterman stressed, noting that the Reapers will be used to" support a wide range of operations on the continent, ...including operations in low temperatures and participation in various exercises."

At the same time, the personnel of the 2nd detachment was responsible only for the maintenance of the "Reapers" and for conducting take-off and landing operations, while the direct control of drones in the air was carried out by combat crews from ground control stations located geographically at the Polish Miroslavets air base (by the way, the "Reapers" already temporarily flew to the Romanian base in the summer of 2019, when the Polish air base allegedly reconstructed the runway).

However, the greatest interest was the fact that the" Reapers", as then reported in Air Force Magazine, did not belong to the US Armed Forces, but to" contractors "("contractors"). And the unit itself was staffed, apparently, also not by military personnel, but by "contractors". Under the name "contractor" is usually hidden either the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), or any of the private military companies (PMCs) hired by the US government – usually represented by the Pentagon – to solve security problems in a particular region of the planet where the United States has some "national interests" that require "protection" (from whom they should be protected, I think, it is clear).

To Transylvania-forever!

However, over time, the US military, apparently deciding that being" temporary "strike drones-not to face, at the beginning of this year announced that the unit "Reapers" will now be on duty in Romania on a permanent basis. This was announced on January 4, 2021 in an official press release published on the website of the US Air Force Command in Europe and Africa.

"The forward deployment of our MQ-9s in this key strategic location will embolden our allies and partners, as well as serve as a signal to our adversaries that we will be able to respond quickly to any emerging threat," General Jeffrey Harrigian, head of the US Air Force Europe and Africa Command, said in a press release.

According to the published information, a new unit of "Reapers" will be formed on the basis of "Kympiya-Turziy", which will temporarily report to the 1st detachment of the 31st group of expeditionary operations until it reaches full combat readiness. The latter, in turn, is subordinate to the command of the 31st Fighter Wing of the US Air Force, located at the Italian Air Force base "Aviano" (Aviano Air Base).

At the same time, the US military does not specify exactly how many reconnaissance and strike drones of this type will be deployed in Romania. It is only reported that there will be 90 military personnel: that is, this time a unit equipped with drones belonging to the US Air Force arrived in Romania, and staffed by military personnel, not "contractors".

Why did the Americans need to place their "Reapers" in Romania on a permanent basis? Yes, everything is simple: according to the statement of the Americans themselves, in this case, the flight time for the actions of these drones over the Balkans and over the Black Sea "in support of NATO operations"is significantly reduced. It is clear that this is not necessary to protect against the Iranian or North Korean threat.

However, the most important thing that the American generals are silent about is related to the configuration that the drones stationed in Romania will have: will they fly over the Balkans and over the Black Sea in a purely reconnaissance version, or will they also carry on board aircraft weapons of destruction?

At one time, in relation to the "Reapers" from the 2nd detachment of the 52nd group of expeditionary operations, which were serviced by "contractors", it was claimed that the drones are not armed and solve only reconnaissance and surveillance tasks. But this time we are talking about drones belonging to the US Air Force and serviced by military personnel.

However, this is just the question that, as usual, always just hangs in the air. Although the fact that from the base in Transylvania-a region known to fans of works about Count Dracula, will take off "Soul Collectors" armed with "Hellfire", there is even something symbolic…


Vladimir Shcherbakov

Deputy Executive Editor of HBO

Vladimir Leonidovich Shcherbakov is a journalist and writer.

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The material is placed by the copyright holder in the public domain
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