USAF deploys MQ-9A Reapers to Romania

The US Air Force (USAF) has deployed an undisclosed number of MQ-9A Reaper remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS) and approximately 90 airmen to Romania’s 71st Air Base in Câmpia Turzii.

The service announced the deployment on January 4, adding that the unmanned aircraft will be used to conduct intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) missions in support of NATO operations in the region. Until the squadron is declared fully operational in Romania, it will fall under the 31st Expeditionary Operations Group, Detachment 1 – a subordinate unit of the 31st Fighter Wing at Aviano Air Base, Italy.

Gen Jeff Harrigian, commander of US Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa, said: “The forward and ready positioning of our MQ-9s at this key strategic location reassures our allies and partners, while also sending a message to our adversaries, that we can quickly respond to any emergent threat.”

MQ-9A [New York ANG/Tech Sgt Ricky Best]
An MQ-9A Reaper - assigned to the New York Air National Guard's (ANG's) 174th Fighter Wing - rests on the ground at Wheeler-Sack Army Airfield in Fort Drum, New York, after returning from a training sortie on February 14, 2012. ANG/Tech Sgt Ricky Best

The USAF adds that, while the Reapers are based in Romania, they will fly freedom of manoeuvre missions, support Agile Combat Employment concepts and integrate with joint and coalition forces in the region. It adds that “the MQ-9s may also participate in exercises that ensure interoperability with allied and partner nations.”

This deployment marks the third time in two years that USAF-operated Reapers have flown from the Romanian base. In the summer of 2019, MQ-9s arrived at the 71st Air Base from Poland due to construction work that was taking place at Miroslawiec Air Base. The Poland-based Reaper aircraft returned to Romania in January 2020 for a temporary deployment that lasted until late spring.

The USAF states that “this deployment has been fully coordinated with the Romanian government”, adding that the two nations hold a close military relationship and “cooperate on numerous regional security issues.” Romania is a located in a strategically key region of Eastern Europe, located to the west of the Black Sea and is south of Ukraine and the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. The Reapers are well positioned to conduct ISR missions over this key region of Europe and will likely be used to monitor Russian military activity in the Kaliningrad, Crimea and Black Sea regions.

Manufactured by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc (GA-ASI), the MQ-9A Reaper has a total endurance of more than 27 hours, can reach speeds of 276mph and can operate at altitudes of up to 50,000ft. The RPAS boasts a 3,850lb payload capacity, which includes 3,000lb of external stores.