Predator supports special ops forces

Courtesy photo The MQ-1 Predator is a system composed of four aircraft, a ground control station, a satellite link and personnel.

By Tonya Fennell: CNJ staff writer

Under its new mission, Cannon Air Force Base airmen will be fighting the war on terrorism from a distance.

Air Force Special Operations Command said this week it is moving to Cannon a squadron of MQ-1 Predator unmanned aerial vehicle personnel capable of conducting reconnaissance and warfare halfway across the globe as part of the base’s transition to a special operations wing.

The 27-foot-long aircraft will be flown by remote-control from safety of a Cannon control center.

“The flying is done remotely,” according to Col. J.D. Clem, director of plans and programs for the 3rd Special Operations Squadron. “The aircraft will be in the desert, but the airmen will be here (at Cannon).”

Clem said the squadron’s mission is to provide unmanned aerial vehicle support to special operations forces.

In operation since 1995, the Predator can be armed with two AGM-114 Hellfire missiles. It has been used in Afghanistan, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Iraq and Yemen.

Clem said the 3rd Special Operations Squadron will begin arriving at Cannon from Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., in June.

Although the 300-member squadron will be based at Cannon, the aircraft will fly operational missions overseas while being remotely controlled by airmen at Cannon, AFSOC spokesperson Chief Master Sgt. Gary Emery said.

“There may be some flying of the Predator here in the future for training purposes,” Emery said, “but that has yet to be determined.”

The MQ-1 Predator is a system, not just an aircraft, according to military officials. A fully operational system consists of four aircraft (with sensors), a ground control station, a Predator Primary Satellite Link and approximately 55 personnel for deployed 24-hour operations.

The basic crew for the Predator is one pilot and two sensor operators who fly the aircraft from inside the ground control station.

By the numbers — Figures for the MQ-1 Predator:
6.9 – height in feet
27 — length in feet
40 — cost in millions of dollars
48.7 — wingspan in feet
84 — approximate cruising speed in mph
454 — range in miles
1,130 — weight in pounds
25,000 — ceiling in feet