The Air Force said Monday it has based a squadron of MQ-9 Reaper drones and 90 airmen in Romania.
The Reapers, which are stationed at the 71st Air Base in Campia Turzii Air Base, will conduct intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions, U.S. Air Forces in Europe-Air Forces Africa said in a release.
They will also support the Air Force’s agile combat employment concepts, wherein the service distributes airmen and aircraft across several locations to increase the chances of surviving an attack from a major power such as Russia or China, USAFE said. Additionally, the drones will fly freedom of maneuver missions, work together with other U.S. military forces and allied forces in the region, and may also take part in exercises to ensure interoperability between the U.S. and allied and partner nations.
“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,” USAFE commander Gen. Jeff Harrigian said in the release.
Until the Reaper squadron is fully operational, it will fall under the 31st Expeditionary Operations Group, Detachment 1, the release said. The units are part of the 31st Fighter Wing at Aviano Air Base in Italy.
The heading on the release described the deployment as establishing an “enduring presence” in Romania. When asked if this is a permanent basing, USAFE spokeswoman Maj. Selena Rodts said the command does not discuss lengths of time for deployments for operational security concerns.
“U.S. Air Forces in Europe routinely moves aircraft around Europe for theater familiarization, to conduct training, and support combatant commander objectives,” Rodts said in an email. “These deployments are just one of the many ways we demonstrate our steadfast commitment to our NATO allies and regional partners.”
The Air Force previously deployed a detachment of Reapers from Poland to the 71st Air Base in January 2020, and at the time described that as a “temporary relocation” that was expected to last through early spring 2020.
USAFE said the deployment was coordinated with the Romanian government, a NATO ally that has a close military relationship with the United States. Romania is in a strategically key region, with Ukraine to its north and the Black Sea to its east, and not far from Turkey and Russia.
Defense News, a sister publication to Air Force Times, reported in 2018 that the Air Force had constructed a hangar at the 71st Air Base that could be used to house Reapers and gather intelligence around the Black Sea and eastern Europe.
The Air Force also deployed Reapers to Estonia in June 2020.
Stephen Losey covers leadership and personnel issues as the senior reporter for Air Force Times. He comes from an Air Force family, and his investigative reports have won awards from the Society of Professional Journalists. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover Air Force operations against the Islamic State.