The Air Force conducted MQ-9 Reaper missions from Romania for the first time this month, after basing a squadron of the drones there in January.
The 25th Attack Group, which falls under the command of the 432nd Air Expeditionary Wing, has in recent years focused on counterterrorism operations in U.S. Central Command’s area of operations.
But the renewed focus on great power competition and near-peer adversaries like Russia has required the unit to establish capabilities in EUCOM’s area of operations while also remaining active in CENTCOM’s area of operations, the Air Force said.
USAFE said the Reapers' deployment shows the United States' support for allies in the region, and seeks to deter adversaries.
“This is an exciting moment where we can showcase the value of the MQ-9 across the globe, not just in the Middle East,” Col. Timothy Monroe, 25th ATKG commander, said in an Air Force news release. “We can demonstrate to our NATO allies and coalition partners that, when our Airmen are given the most difficult tasks, we rise to the occasion and bring the best of who we are to every mission that we accomplish.”
The Air Force announced in January that it had established a squadron of MQ-9 Reaper drones and 90 airmen at the 71st Air Base in Campia Turzii air base in Romania to complete intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions in support of NATO, and to conduct freedom of maneuver missions.
Likewise, the Air Force said the drones would support Agile Combat Employment concepts and may be involved in exercises to facilitate interoperability with allies.
“Standing up active-duty Reaper combat lines in the European theater is a significant milestone for the RPA community,” said Col. Stephen Jones, 432nd Wing and 432nd Air Expeditionary Wing commander, in the news release. “We intend to move to evolve our weapon system to survive and provide critical capabilities in contested environments. The support from our partners in Europe has been outstanding, and we are proud of achieving operational capability ahead of schedule.”
It’s unclear if the deployment, which was coordinated alongside the Romanian government, will remain permanent. USAFE spokeswoman Maj. Selena Rodts told Air Force Times in January that lengths of time for deployments were not being disclosed due to operational security concerns.
There have been signs that MQ-9 Reapers would be based out of Romania for several years. Defense News, a sister publication, reported in 2018 that the Air Force had built a hangar at 71st Air Base that could accommodate the drones.
This isn’t the first time Reapers have been deployed in the region. Last year, a detachment of Reapers were deployed to Poland and Estonia.