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Team evaluates Shaw as home for drone program

James Olsen, 20th Civil Engineer Squadron community planner, directs a site survey at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., Dec. 13, 2016. The site survey was conducted to evaluate Shaw’s capability to host an MQ-9 Reaper wing. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Kelsey Tucker)

James Olsen, 20th Civil Engineer Squadron community planner, directs a site survey at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., Dec. 13, 2016. The site survey was conducted to evaluate Shaw’s capability to host an MQ-9 Reaper wing. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Kelsey Tucker)

Jim Burke, Air Combat Command intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance weapons systems team member, points at a map during a site survey at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., Dec. 13, 2016. Shaw is one of five bases being evaluated for an MQ-9 Reaper squadron, and one of four evaluated for an MQ-9 wing. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Kelsey Tucker)

Jim Burke, Air Combat Command intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance weapons systems team member, points at a map during a site survey at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., Dec. 13, 2016. Shaw is one of five bases being evaluated for an MQ-9 Reaper squadron, and one of four evaluated for an MQ-9 wing. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Kelsey Tucker)

An MQ-9 Reaper sits on the flight line Nov. 22, 2016, at Creech Air Force Base, Nev. The Reaper is an evolution of the MQ-1 Predator and can carry four AGM-114 Hellfire missiles and two 500 pound bombs while being able to fly for 18-24 hour missions. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Christian Clausen)

An MQ-9 Reaper sits on the flight line Nov. 22, 2016, at Creech Air Force Base, Nev. The Reaper is an evolution of the MQ-1 Predator and can carry four AGM-114 Hellfire missiles and two 500 pound bombs while being able to fly for 18-24 hour missions. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Christian Clausen)

SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. -- Teams from Air Combat Command and Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, conducted a site survey here Dec. 13, to assess the base as a candidate for an MQ-9 Reaper mission.

Shaw AFB, South Carolina, is one of four installations being evaluated for a wing-level mission, and one of five in the running for a squadron-level mission.

The basing criteria for the MQ-9 were approved by the Secretary and Chief of Staff of the Air Force and the main criteria are mission, capacity, environmental requirements and cost factors.

According to the Air Force’s official website, “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.”

The teams were given a tour of the base with several areas highlighted as possible locations for a future wing or squadron mission. Specifically considered were the logistics of facilities, infrastructure and capacity to expand.

Because the MQ-9 is a slow-moving aircraft, there have been questions raised about its compatibility with Shaw’s F-16CM Fighting Falcons and the safety of having manned and unmanned aircraft sharing an airspace.

“Currently Shaw AFB provides over $900 million annually to the local economy,” said James Olsen, 20th Civil Engineer Squadron community planner. “If selected for either the wing or squadron option, our economic impact could push the base to over $1 billion annually.”

Considering the number of officer, enlisted and civilian members, a wing-level mission would bring approximately 1,600 more Airmen to the base, while a squadron would have a much smaller footprint of approximately 400, said Olsen.

Some reasons for the project are to create a better quality of life for members within the MQ-9 enterprise, diversify assignment opportunities and provide increased opportunities for leadership. A centralized location would be beneficial, due to the roughly 40 minute commute on top of 12, 14 or 16 hour days that the members of the MQ-9 mission currently face.

“To me, this is the premiere fighter wing in the United States Air Force, and we do things right here,” said Olsen. “(The new mission would give) us an opportunity to help influence and take care of additional Airmen, which we do an outstanding job of here.”

If Shaw AFB is selected for an MQ-9 squadron, the base could potentially host an operations group with mission control elements in one to two years but would not bring any planes to the base, said Olsen. For the wing, the proposed 24 MQ-9s would arrive in three to four years, along with launch and recovery capabilities, and a maintenance group.

The bases being surveyed for the squadron-level mission are: Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona; Moody AFB, Georgia; Mountain Home AFB, Idaho; Offutt AFB, Nebraska; and Shaw AFB. Those being surveyed for the wing-level mission are: Eglin AFB, Florida; Tyndall AFB, Florida; Vandenberg AFB, California, and Shaw AFB.

The candidate base chosen for the MQ-9 squadron is scheduled to be announced January 2017. Wing selection is scheduled for summer 2017.