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Holloman | 29th ATKS takes a different angle during ACE Grand Warrior

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Antonio Salfran
  • 49th Wing Public Affairs

Two Holloman MQ-9 Reapers from the 29th Attack Squadron, and a small contingent of maintainers from the 29th and 9th Aircraft Maintenance Units, made their way to Grand Forks Air Force Base, North Dakota, marking the beginning of Agile Combat Employment Grand Warrior on July 14, 2023.

This exercise marks the first time the 49th Wing performed an entire mission under complete Satellite Communication control operated solely by Mission Control Element personnel the entire time in unfamiliar airspace.

The ACE concept ensures that aircrew and maintainers are prepared to operate from different locations with varying levels of volume and assistance. ACE exercises bolster mission readiness across the agency and promote multi-capable Airmen. Each ACE operation has required a Mission Control Element which operates the aircraft in the air and a Launch and Recovery Element which is responsible for launching and landing the aircraft.

Unlike its predecessors, ACE Grand Warrior is composed of Satellite Communications launch and recovery operations where every mission set is conducted by a home-grown Holloman Mission Control Element.

“The vast majority of the MQ-9 community is the Mission Control Element,” said U.S. Air Force Capt. Nicholous Banks, 29th Attack Squadron flight commander. “They aren’t trained or authorized to recover the aircraft usually, but this crew was, and this was their first mission showcasing those abilities.”

Members of the 29th ATKS are working to transition out of the traditional way of conducting the ACE construct by using SATCOM to launch and land the aircraft through a system known as Automatic Takeoff & Land. This system allows the Mission Control Element to take full control of all launch and recovery themselves, thus removing the need for the Launch and Recovery Element.

“We need to show the national defense structure how adaptable we are,” said Banks. “By reducing our maintenance personnel, equipment, and LRE footprint, we align ourselves with the Chief of Staff of the Air Force and his priorities when it comes to the ACE design.”

Transitioning into this realm of management by a singular element takes time and support from the 29th ATKS to see this mission come to fruition.

U.S. Air Force Capt. Isabelle Perry, 29th Attack Squadron director of operations, led the charge on planning for ACE Grand Warrior and provided insight on how important this capability is to the MQ-9 enterprise and the Air Force as a whole. She said that removing the LRE piece allows the 49th Wing to consistently prove mission readiness capabilities.

All MCE personnel received training on the various launch and recovery procedures prior to ACE Grand Warrior. As a result, newly operational aviators were able to execute the mission swiftly.

“The crews launching on Friday are new to the launch and recovery realm,” said Perry. “This is important because they’re very young aviators in this field, flying in unfamiliar airspace, with a brand new mission set and they’re killing it. So far we’ve had nothing but successful launches during this exercise.”

Perry goes on to say that everyone in the 29th ATKS has been integral on this journey, especially with the planning and training aspect.

“I covered most of the planning for this event but the whole squadron made this happen,” said Perry. “The way this would’ve been done in the past would have been a huge logistical nightmare, so each agency within our squadron being so proactive in this transition has made all the difference in the world.”

After the successful mission execution at Grand Forks, the maintenance Airmen and MQ-9s made it back to home station. ACE Grand Warrior was a prime example of why Holloman remains the backbone of combat airpower.