By SOF Editor on Wed, 01/13/2010 - 11:21am
KEY FIELD, Miss. (1/12/10) – Mississippi Air National Guardsmen showcased a new intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) platform training facility here Jan. 9 for the director of the Air National Guard.
"Project Liberty is the Air Force's new ISR platform," said Lt. Col. Rick Berryhill, the facility's spokesman at the 186th Air Refueling Wing. "It provides tactical ISR to the warfighter forward."
Liberty Project includes four aircrew members flying a twin-turbo prop MC-12W aircraft – a modified King Air 350 – as well as a ground crew intelligence and an ISR exploitation cell.
Officials said this setup provides valuable full-motion video and other intelligence data, similar to what MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper ISR platforms provide through combat air patrols (CAPs) in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"They are working together to bring tactical intelligence and tactical ISR straight to the warfighter, straight to the boots-on-the-ground," said Berryhill.
Lt. Gen. Harry Wyatt talked with Project Liberty members and toured the classrooms, operations center and aircraft to better understand its mission and systems.
Berryhill said the Air Guard provides mission qualification training here for the program. It has trained and deployed more than 124 active duty crew members since Project Liberty's initial training began last March.
The wing is scheduled to conduct MC-12 mission training for more than 600 active duty Airmen this fiscal year.
During a town hall-style meeting, Wyatt called the training mission "vitally important to the U.S. Air Force."
"It is one that this country needs," he said.
Berryhill said crewmembers go through initial qualification training before arriving at Key Field to "get integrated as one in the mission."
The 9th Reconnaissance Wing out of Beale Air Force Base, Calif., serves as the project's interim parent wing.
Berryhill said Key Field already possessed manned ISR experts through its existing RC-26 ISR mission, who were used as instructors. Other dual-qualified instructors and support staff here were allocated through the unit's KC-135 missions. They provide day-to-day training for the crews as well as other support.
"All of the RC-26 guys have extensive combat experience in various theaters," he said.
Berryhill said the students come together here from backgrounds "as various as you can imagine" to form one team.
They are "all lumped together, all at one time, to learn a new mission and then deploy within about 30 days of starting their training," he said, adding that the program has been very successful in a very short time.
The mission overseas in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom surpassed 1,000 sorties in less than six months, said Berryhill. The unit that is standing up in Operation Enduring Freedom took possession of their aircraft in less than a year.