The U.S. Air Force has deployed MQ-9 Reaper drones to the Indo-Pacific region for the first time under the command of a newly reconstituted squadron on the East China Sea border.
Here's What We Know
The 319th Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron at Kanoya Air Base in southern Japan officially began operations last Sunday, Oct. 23, under the command of Lt. Col. Alexander Kelly. This was announced by the press service of the U.S. Air Force.
The 319th Squadron will now provide surveillance in the skies over East Asia to support joint U.S.-Japanese intelligence objectives and "to ensure a free and open Indo-Pacific region." The patrols can help gather information on Chinese and North Korean military activity in the region.
Typically, MQ-9 Reapers are used to strike the enemy. General Atomics has six hanger points and can carry AGM-114 Hellfire missiles, Mark 82 bombs with laser or GPS guidance, AIM-9X Sidewinder and AIM-92 Stinger missiles. However, the 319th Squadron is using unarmed drones.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Air Force hopes to reduce its MQ-9 Reaper fleet from 351 to 276 drones by the end of fiscal year 2023 and cease production entirely. The service fears that the drones could become easy targets for Chinese air defenses and wants to funnel money into higher-priority programs.
Source: Defense News