NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. -- Air Force commandos have a new trick up their sleeves for getting advanced drones into distant battles far away from the infrastructure they usually require.
Special operations airmen have been able to modify an MQ-1 Predator so that two drones can fold up with all of the gear necessary for operations and fit into a C-17 Globemaster III cargo plane, says special operations commander Air Force Brig. Gen. Albert "Buck" Elton. Within four hours of landing, these commandos are able to reassemble the drones for flight, and set up a complete portable command center -- including an Xbox for off hours.
Only two of these Predator kits exist now, and they have already been tested in a combat environment.
"I won't get into the specifics on where we went, but we had something happen and we needed [Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance] capability in the air," said Elton, while speaking at the Air Force Association's annual Air and Space Conference on Monday. "We didn't have a whole lot of infrastructure at the international airport where we were operating out of."
The special operations crew brought with them everything they needed for an air-conditioned command center where they could plan and carry out the drone missions, as well as eat, sleep and relax in front of a TV.
"They were very expeditionary," Elton said. "This is … the development of equipment and tactics that nobody else in the world can do."
Drones such as Predators have a limited range and are usually based at an airfield in theaters of conflict. They currently must fly aboard cargo planes to get to places such as Afghanistan or Iraq.
The new configuration Elton announced was not particularly difficult to apply, he said, and could become the new standard for most Predators. The hardest part was mobilizing all of the support gear and supplies.
The next step is applying this set-up to the much larger MQ-9 Reaper drone, Elton said, which will likely take about twice as long to set up upon arrival.