A group of pilots who fly an advance type of Air Force drone could be coming to Shaw Air Force Base near Sumter.
The Air Force announced a new MQ-9 Reaper group, including its mission control elements, would be located at Shaw under the military’s “preferred” alternative. The Pentagon has to conduct a full environmental analysis before making a final decision. Potential alternate sites are in Arizona, Georgia and Idaho.
“Shaw AFB was selected because it was the best option to help us diversify assignment opportunities for personnel within the MQ-9 enterprise, provide increased opportunities for leadership from within the community, and provide flexibility to enhance integration with other organizations and capabilities,” Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said in a statement.
The first airmen assigned to the new group are expected to begin arriving there next fiscal year, although no actual planes are slated to be based at Shaw. About 430 personnel could eventually come with the group, which will fly the unmanned planes remotely.
Air Force officials said it looked at additional locations for MQ-9 assignments after surveys of officers and enlisted airmen. The MQ-9 is used as a strike vehicle and for intelligence collection. It is larger and more heavily armed than the older Predator drone.
South Carolina’s senior U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham confirmed the announcement. “The men and women at Shaw have proven time and time again that they are ready and capable of answering the call to protect our nation,” he said in a statement. “I will continue to work with the Air Force and the members of our congressional delegation as the selection process moves forward.”