Intelligence: MQ-1C Moving To The Philippines

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September 25, 2017: The United States has sent MQ-1C UAVs to the Philippines to assist Filipino troops fighting Islamic terrorists in the southern part of the country. These UAVs belong to the U.S. Army which normally deploys them as an aviation company but sometime a detachment from an aviation company is sent overseas. An MQ-1C aviation company has 150 troops, 12 MQ-1Cs and five ground stations.

The first MQ-1C company entered service in 2013 with the U.S. Army 160th SOAR (Special Operations Aviation Regiment), which belongs to SOCOM. Most MQ-1C companies are assigned to army combat brigades. The original plan was to establish 45 of these aviation companies but there was not enough money for that but there were enough MQ-1Cs to organize sufficient aviation companies for each combat brigade sent overseas as well as to train all combat brigades to get the most out of an MQ-1C company. Before these aviation companies were formed some MQ-1Cs were sent to Iraq and Afghanistan in 2010 for field testing. That was successful and reports from the MQ-1Cs in Iraq and Afghanistan helped shape the first MQ-1C aviation companies as they were being formed. There are now at least ten of these aviation companies, two of them assigned to SOCOM.

While the U.S. Air Force has flown most of the UAV missions against ISIL in Syria and Iraq the army began sending MQ-1Cs to join that effort in early 2015. The air force already had older MQ-1As there and these have flown about 20 percent of air force missions and for most of those missions the MQ-1A is armed with Hellfire missiles. On about a fifth of its missions in Syria and Iraq the MQ-1As use their missiles. The army has not reported how often the MQ-1Cs use their missiles but many of the MQ-1Cs fly surveillance missions while armed with missiles and at least three MQ-1Cs have been lost in action so far. Earlier in 2017 an MQ-1C company was sent to South Korea.

While air force Predators and Reapers are flown by officers, assisted by sergeants operating sensors, the army operators are mostly sergeants and warrant officers. The air force operators control their UAVs via satellite link from a base in the United States. Only the ground crews go overseas. But army operators and ground crews not only go overseas, but are assigned to a specific brigade, which they are a part of. That makes a big difference. When an army UAV operator provides overhead surveillance for troops, he often knows some of those troops. Even if he doesn't know them personally, he knows they are part of his brigade, and if anything goes very right, or wrong, he might receive a personal visit from those involved. With the air force operators, it's a job. With the army operators, it's personal. For this reason, the army has refused air force calls for all heavy (over one ton) UAVs to be pooled. The air force cannot understand the personal angle, but for the army and marines it's essential. Moreover, when there's a victory out there because of UAVs, it is for all to see in the UAV operations center, on big, flat screen displays. The response among the UAV operators is emotional, just as it is, in a more somber way, if there are problems down there.

Nevertheless the army is adding a satellite control option to the MQ-1C, apparently for situations where a platoon (a few MQ-1Cs) are being sent overseas. You still have to send some maintainers but all the ground control gear can stay behind. Moreover the MQ-1C, unlike the Reaper and Predator, uses automatic landing and takeoff software.

The MQ-1C Block 1 Gray Eagle weighs 1.5 tons, carries 135.4 kg (300 pounds) of sensors internally, and up to 227.3 kg (500 pounds) of sensors or weapons externally. It has an endurance of 30 hours and a top speed of 270 kilometers an hour. MQ-1C has a wingspan of 18 meters (56 feet) and is 9 meters (28 feet) long. The MQ-1C can carry four Hellfire missiles (compared to two on the Predator) or a dozen smaller 70mm guided missiles. A new, Block 2 version of Gray Eagle entered service in 2016. Block 2 has a better engine, fifty percent more fuel capacity, over 75 percent more endurance (from 30 to 53 hours), and its payload increased by 50 percent from 372 kg (798 pounds) to 558 kg (1,227 pounds). The fuselage has been modified to handle the increased fuel load and has greater reliability and stability in the air. The additional internal space makes it easier to install a Traffic Collision Avoidance System (TCAS) that makes it possible to fly in airspace used by civilian manned aircraft. MQ-1Cs have always had flight control software that handles takeoffs and landings automatically and this software has been very reliable, as have the MQ-1Cs themselves with readiness levels comparable to manned aircraft.

It is not known if the MQ-1Cs sent to the Philippines will be armed as their primary mission is to provide the Filipino troops on the ground with improved surveillance of Islamic terrorists in areas there these ISIL affiliated groups are most active. Filipino troop commanders are familiar with this type of surveillance as the U.S. has supplied the Philippines with aircraft that use similar surveillance and communications equipment. SOCOM has had teams of personnel equipped with ground receivers for this video. The U.S. is also providing the specialized software for keeping track of what UAV surveillance detects and can quickly analyze patterns of what is seen and indicate what the enemy is probably up to.

 

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