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Nellis unit incorporates newest Predator control system

NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. -- Airmen in the 15th Reconnaissance Squadron are training on how to employ one of the latest upgrades to the MQ-1 Predator, which will add to the overall efficiency of the aircraft.

The Multi-Aircraft Control system reached operational capability in March, with the first in-theater sortie flown under the new system in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The MAC system is designed to allow one pilot to actively engage a target, while three other Predators are flying near static targets under the same pilot's control. While one pilot controls all four Predators, sensor operators assigned to each Predator are able to collect data using the sensor ball, located on the front of the aircraft.

Since first implementing the MAC, the 15th RS has been training its aircrew to employ the new capability, while continuing to fly missions.

"We're training our pilots in theater," said Lt. Col. Kenneth Gates, 15th RS director of operations. "So even though they are still in training, they're also contributing to the conflict."

The pilots began training on the system by flying on one- and two-ship sorties and have since moved up to three. By the time the training phase ends in January 2007, the pilots will be up to four, he said.

"The MAC adds greatly to our efficiency in combat," said Colonel Gates. "We're able to fly more sorties per pilot and per ground control station. This helps also because we are limited in the number of GCS' we can have."

The MAC system began operational testing by the 53rd Test and Evaluation Group, Detachment 4, in September 2005. During that time, the system was tested on its ability to simultaneously control four Predators over the skies of southern Nevada.

"Our pilots were impressed with the technology integration, human-machine interface and situational awareness provided by the MAC GCS," said Lt. Col. Steven Tanner, 53rd TEG Det. 4 commander, in a previous interview. "We spent six months developing comprehensive training and safety plans to ensure that these initial MAC four-ship test sorties were successful. Once we fully train our pilots and sensor operators on this new technology, we will initiate the process of evaluating the operational capabilities of the system."

The MAC system has the potential to bring long-endurance, concentrated Predator firepower to a dynamic battlefield scenario, Colonel Tanner said.

The MQ-1 Predator is a medium-altitude, long-endurance, remotely piloted aircraft that can carry Hellfire missiles. Its primary mission is interdiction and conducting armed reconnaissance against critical, perishable targets, according to the Air Force.

When the MQ-1 is not actively pursuing its primary mission, it acts as the Joint Forces Air Component Commander-owned theater asset for reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition.

(1st Lt. Brooke Davis contributed to this article.)

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