The U.S. Air Force Established A Permanent Base For MQ-9 Reaper Drones In Romania

File photo of a U.S. Air Force MQ-9 Reaper flies during RED FLAG-Alaska 19-2, June 19 2019, at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Daniel Snider).

An unspecified number of MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aircraft will be base at Campia Turzii Air Base, from where they will perform a variety of missions over the region, including the Agile Combat Employment.

The U.S. Air Force announced that MQ-9 Reaper drones found a new permanent base in Romania. An unspecified number of the unmanned aircraft, accompanied by approximately 90 Airmen, are now at the 71st Air Base in Campia Turzii Air Base, from where they will conduct intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) missions in support of NATO operations in the region. The base also hosts Romanian Air Force’s MiG-21 LanceRs fighter jets and IAR-330 (license-built SA-330 Puma) helicopters.

“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,” said Gen. Jeff Harrigian, the United States Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa commander.

The drones seem to be independent from the ones deployed in Poland with the 52nd Expeditionary Operations Group Detachment 2, as the press release reported that they will fall under the 31st Expeditionary Operations Group Detachment 1, a geographically separated unit assigned to the 31st Fighter Wing based at Aviano Air Base, Italy.

The two MQ-9s assigned 52nd EOG Det. 2 are unarmed Block 5 aircraft flown and maintained by contractors, with the Air Force providing communications, intelligence analysis and force protection, but there is no mention if the ones based in Romania will be flown and maintained by contractors or by Air Force personnel.

The U.S. MQ-9 N428HK carrying the new pod and antenna on the right wing pylons. (Image credit: via Polish MoD)

This is actually not the first time that the MQ-9 operates out of Campia Turzii Air Base, as the drones of the 52nd EOG Det. 2 were redeployed there for a month while their homebase Miroslawiec Air Base underwent construction works in 2019 and again in early 2020 to take part in exercise Dacian Reaper. This time, other than ISR missions and international exercises, the Reapers will also support Agile Combat Employment concepts, fly freedom of maneuver missions and integrate with joint and coalition forces in the region.

A couple of months ago, we reported about the drones based in Poland being sighted with a new pod housing the L3 full-band Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) ISR capability, whose integration with the MQ-9 Reaper was announced during the Paris Air Show 2019. The pod would be used to generate the Electronic Order of Battle (EOB) and keep an eye on Russian activities in the Baltic (Kaliningrad) or the Black Sea (Crimea).

While there are no official reports of the pod being delivered to other Reaper units, given the area of responsibility of the 31st EOG Det.1 and the reasons of the deployment seemingly similar to the ones of the 52nd EOG Det. 2, we may see the new pod again flying with the new unit’s MQ-9s.

About Stefano D'Urso
Stefano D'Urso is a freelance journalist and contributor to TheAviationist based in Lecce, Italy. A graduate in Industral Engineering he's also studying to achieve a Master Degree in Aerospace Engineering. Electronic Warfare, Loitering Munitions and OSINT techniques applied to the world of military operations and current conflicts are among his areas of expertise.