U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) is looking to strengthen its intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities beyond those afforded by current space assets and the General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper.
“The fact of the matter for U.S. CENTCOM is there’s really nothing else that has the collection capabilities and the unique combination of collection capabilities that the MQ-9 has right now,” U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Alexus “Grynch” Grynkewich, CENTCOM’s dirctor of operations, told an Air Force Association Air and Space Warfighters in Action forum on Dec. 6.
“I’m a capabilities kind of guy,” Grynkewich said. “I don’t want to ask for MQ-9s. I want to ask for something that can provide full-motion video, SIGINT [signals intelligence], and, and, and, and whatever ‘and’ it is you’re looking for. But when you start adding those all up, there really is nothing else. I think we’ll find other environments in the future where we need a persistent collection capability, and whether that comes from a space-based collection capability, some sort of a near space collection capability or other kind of long-range, loitering airborne layer capability, those are going to be critically important.”
Since the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan in August, the United States has engaged in negotiations with Central Asian countries to allow the Air Force to base MQ-9s in those nations for “over-the-horizon” strikes against Islamic State-Khorasan (ISIS-K) cells in Afghanistan.
MQ-9s have had to fly from Ali Al Salem Air Base, Kuwait to Afghanistan for reconnaissance–long flights that have limited the MQ-9s’ coverage, Grynkewich said.
CENTCOM may soon receive improved support from space assets, as the command is to be one of the first combatant commands to integrate a U.S. Space Force component.