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Joint unmanned aircraft system mission crosses Atlantic

by Master Sgt. Steven Goetsch
Air Combat Command Public Affairs

9/23/2008 - LANGLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Va. (AFPN) -- An Air Combat Command RQ-4A Global Hawk unmanned aircraft system from the 9th Reconnaissance Wing at Beale Air Force Base, Calif., made a trans-Atlantic flight Sept. 20 with the assistance of Navy officials.

The 19-hour flight from Patuxent River Naval Air Station, Md., to Southwest Asia had Air Force and Navy officials working together to save time and resources.

"The Navy has all of the supplies that we have, plus contracted support," said Airman 1st Class Matthew Milles, an avionics specialist. "It's a lot easier than just going to a remote location. Working hand in hand with the Navy moves the plane faster to the deployed location."

The ability of the Air Force to coordinate and streamline UAS assets transfers directly to the warfighter on the ground.

"We flew out of Patuxent River, where we used the Navy asset ground segment to launch it out of there, and that's the first time that's been done," said Tech. Sgt. Jason Jones, assigned to the 380th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron. "The aircraft has been on the ground about six hours, and we're going to turn it for a war on terrorism mission tonight and fly a full-schedule 24-hour mission."

Going east over the Atlantic has its own significance and demonstrates how the Air Force is committed to providing global vigilance, reach and power in the future by exploring new options.

"Going this direction, specifically allows us to cut out a lot of different stops in a lot of different areas," said Col. George Zaniewski, the ACC Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Division chief. "Overall, it gets the aircraft over into the area of responsibility much easier, and more importantly than that, it allows us to work with the Navy, who will be doing more and more in the Global Hawk environment."

The flight from Patuxent River NAS is just the beginning of an increased relationship between the Air Force and Navy.

"Specifically for the Global Hawk, we are getting more and more into maritime environments, so we are going to be able to work with the Navy much more than we ever have," Colonel Zaniewski said.

This trans-Atlantic mission is also a step toward the chief of staff's initiative to increase UAS capacity for the joint fight.

"What I hope for the future is that it becomes one common way ... that we work with all our sister services, to where we can streamline both the acquisition process, but also the operational process," Colonel Zaniewski said.

Those differences in operations and procedures can be countered with professional UAS operators and precise planning.

"We are dealing with so many unknowns, but we had sharp guys today and they made it happen," said Maj. Alan Rabb, the ACC current operations chief.

"It was a great experience here. I am so used to working with the Navy, where with the Air Force it was the first time," said Bobby Oshner, a Patuxent River Navy Global Hawk contractor. "They looked like professional people who really knew what they were doing."

There are certain hurdles that come by working with another service, but those were evaluated and turned into learning opportunities.

"There is a bit of a different language, different process, but overall we are still the same airframe," said Navy Lt. Cmdr. John Tracey, the Naval Global Hawk project officer. "We are kind of the smaller, kid brother of the Global Hawk community, so it's nice to work with everybody else."

The Patuxent River NAS mission was a win-win for the Air Force as well as the Navy, but with joint operations like these, the real winner is the warfighter.

"It helps to rotate these systems out so they have fresh aircraft. They are flying combat missions daily and you want the best product out there," Commander Tracey said.

Joint operations not only have an effect on logistics of the UAS mission, but it also has the UAS community excited about their future.

"The impact is going to be really huge I believe. What we are doing here is really ground-breaking," Major Rabb said. "We have opened the door to not only a different aspect of joint ops, but also joint ops relative to unmanned aircraft."

"With this ISR, we are going to see a lot of changes in the upcoming years," Airman Milles said.

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