Remote Nevada air base directs killer drones to overseas targets

David C. Henley / LVN photos

David C. Henley / LVN photos

CREECH AIR FORCE BASE, Indian Springs, Nev. — Remarkable innovations in high-tech aerial warfare are being carried out at this once-sleepy and relatively-unknown USAF facility in the remote and desolate Southern Nevada desert.

Formerly known as Indian Springs Auxiliary Air Field, this heavily-guarded base astride Highway 95 is today “ground zero,” the command and control center of what many military experts believe may be the most stunning revolution in combat since gunpowder was invented more than 700 years ago.

That revolution? Machines, instead of humans, fighting wars of the future.

Here at Creech AF Base, about 50 miles northwest of the Las Vegas “Strip,” USAF “pilots sitting before computer consoles in climate-controlled trailers push buttons and manipulate short, upright vertical rods called “joysticks” that guide overseas-based, unmanned and missile-armed MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper aircraft to targets nearly 8,000 miles distant.

These targets may be Al Qaeda, Taliban or other Islamic terrorists and insurgents in Afghanistan, Pakistan and additional locations in the Middle East and Africa, said USAF Col. James “Scotch” Hecker, commander of Creech’s 432rd Air Combat Wing appropriately named the “Hunters.”

As well as conducting air strikes against the enemy, the craft called drones, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or remotely piloted aircraft (RPAs) also perform other functions such as aerial reconnaissance, photography, intelligence gathering, search and rescue coordination and close air support for ground troops, Hecker added in an interview with the Lahontan Valley News and Fallon Eagle-Standard.

The drones also have been used for humanitarian efforts such as disaster relief, he added, citing their importance in assessing damage and assisting aide convoys following the Jan. 10, 2010 earthquake in Haiti, the second-worst quake in recorded history, that left an estimated 317,000 dead and countless thousands injured and homeless.

Only a handful of Reapers and Predators are based at Creech, and they are used for research and training. The battlefield drones that are guided and directed by Creech pilots are based at more than a dozen overseas U.S. and foreign airfields, Hecker explained.

Responding to remote control instructions issued by Creech pilots via satellite, the craft take off from their foreign bases, conduct their assigned missions and return to their home fields.

“At Creech, 250 pilots and crew members work in shifts 24 hours a day, seven days a week to keep the remotely piloted aircraft in the air. We also have crews at the overseas bases that maintain the RPAs and closely coordinate with us at Creech. The RPAs can remain aloft and hover over their targets 24 hours without refueling, and about 60 of the RPAs are airborne around the world at any given time,” he said.

Last year, the RPAs conducted more than 2,000 raids on overseas targets, Hecker stated.

The Reapers, the largest of the two drones at Creech, are 36 feet long, have 65-foot wingspans, can cruise at 230 mph and can fly up to 50,000 feet. The Predators are 27 feet long, have 48.7-foot wingspans, can cruise at 135 mph and can fly up to 25,000 feet. The craft are equipped with Hellfire and Stinger missiles and can be disassembled and loaded into C-130 Hercules aircraft for travel. Both craft are equipped with state-of-the-art TV and video cameras.

“We can virtually pinpoint our targets. Our RPAs, while flying many thousands of miles above the ground, can identify tire tracks in the sand, can locate enemy vehicles by the heat emanating from their engines and can even identify and photograph a tattoo on an enemy insurgent’s arm,” Hecker said.

This former Indian Springs auxiliary field, which was re-named Creech AFB on June 20, 2005, when it was upgraded to a major USAF installation, is named for Gen. William L. Creech, known as the “father” of the Air Force’s Flying Thunderbirds acrobatic team.

Col. Hecker’s 432rd Wing was formed here on May 1, 2007, six years ago today.

The Army and Marine Corps also have RPAs in their inventories as does the Navy, which is experimenting with unmanned craft landing on the decks of aircraft carriers.

Man once fought his enemy with crude hand tools. Today, his newest tools to inflict death and destruction include the airborne, pilotless and heavily-armed MQ-9 Reapers and MQ-1 Predators.


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