Watch this American MQ-9 'Reaper' take off and land on a highway

In what has been described as a first for the United States Air Force, an MQ-9 "Reaper" drone landed, refueled, rearmed, and took off again from a regular highway.
Christopher McFadden
Its the first time this has ever been achieved.

Mark Schauer (U.S. Army)/Wikimedia Commons 

According to The Drive, an American MQ-9 "Reaper" drone has operated from a regular automobile highway for the first time. This was not accidental and is part of a wider effort to develop drone operation techniques in areas lacking traditional runways or airfields. As the Drive reports, this is likely the first of many times we will see this as the United States Air Force ramps up efforts to add advanced uncrewed weapons systems to its stockpiles.

The event occurred as part of "Exercise Agile Chariot" between April 30 and May 2. The MQ-9 flew for the first time on a road during what the Department of Defence called an "organic, entirely air-delivered, runway-independent operation." An MC-130J "Commando II" special operations transport, two A-10C "Thunderbolt II" attack jets, and two U.S. Army MH-6M "Little Bird" special operations helicopters also participated in the operations, which were focused on two highway segments in Wyoming.

Air Force Special Operations Command organized the military exercise, concentrated on the idea of "Agile Combat Employment," or ACE, which aims to ensure that combat airpower can still be employed promptly even when conventional airbases are rendered inoperable or otherwise placed in danger, as would be the case in a conflict with a near-peer competitor like China or Russia. Highways 287 and 789 were used for the exercise's two highway operations segments on April 30 and May 2, 2023, respectively.

The drone landed on Highway 287, where soldiers had already set up a "Forward Arming and Refuelling Point" (FARP) in keeping with the larger principles of ACE. The "Integrated Combat Turnaround" (ICT) event saw the drone take off from the road after being refueled and equipped. Plenty of suitable highways in the U.S. Mountain West for these kinds of drills exist.

“The requirement here was clear: how do we get after Agile Combat Employment and hone the skills required to win a near-peer competitor fight,” explained Lt. Gen. Tony Bauernfeind, AFSOC commander, in an official press release. “This exercise is a great example of what happens when Air Commandos come together to solve problems and test what we will see in future fights,” he added.

“When you get the right people, at the right time, in the right place, you can accomplish impressive feats,” Bauernfeind continued. “Agile Chariot accomplished major milestones for our AFSOC community — all of which lend credence to our pathfinding nature — including the first-ever landing of an MQ-9 on a highway, an MC-130J landing on a highway and simultaneously conducting FARP and ICTs with A-10s, and our special tactics airmen establishing and securing a 30,000-foot usable runway on a public highway,” he said.

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