The 82nd Aerial Target Squadron has the unique mission of providing aerial targets for testing Department of Defense and weapons systems of foreign partners.
This is done by pprovide small-scale and large-scale drones that allow multiple DoD entities to use live weapons, including pilots involved in the Weapons Systems Evaluation Program. These pilots experience a combat maneuverlaunch and fire live missiles at targets, shooting them from the skies above the Gulf.
Jhe mission, however, does not end when the target is shot from the sky.
Part of the 82nd ATRS mission is to clear the waterborne corridor using missile recovery boats for launching and recovering targets, as well as clearing drones and aircraft wreckage after launch.
One of the common targets of the 82nd ATRS employs and recovers is the BQM-167Ahigh performance, small-scale remote-controlled aerial target. This lens is mainly used to support the 53rd WingAir-to-air WSEP.
Priced around $970000 per drone, the BQM-167A can carry a variety of equipment such as infrared and radar pods, electronic attack pods, and glitter and flare dispenser sets. After completing its mission, the drone’s regeneration prepares the target for its next mission.
“By recovering these expensive targets and the pods they carry, the 82nd Watercraft has a very high return on investment for our operation and ultimately the American taxpayer,” said Lt. Col. Dave Magnuson, commanding officer of the 82nd ATRS. “Furthermore, at 120 feet long and 110 tons, they are quite large vessels that help them clear coastal vessels from target launch and recovery lanes, keeping civilian shipping traffic safe.”
Averaging 14 target recoveries per year, the squadron provides all USAF air targets for support DoD and international partners in the Gulf of Eglin Trial and Training Range.
“Our ships leave the docks three hours before the drone launches,” said Kevin Brackin, air target program analyst for the ATRS 82nd Subscale. “Drones have a locator beacon, which activates when the drone lands in the Gulf of Mexico. Using the Retriever Radio Directional Finder onboard the ship, crews can track the direction of the signal inside the drone.
The main difficulties of encountered by boat crews are strong winds and currents from the Gulf Stream, making nighttime recoveries especially dangerous with severe marine weather events, such as squalls, high seas, dense fog and lightning. Another concern is marine life; jellyfish and sharks being the most common dangers for divers.
Despite theSe obstacles, 202 subscale air targets have been recovered since 2008.
“This crew really exemplifies the “Excellence in everything we do,” said Magnuson. “Their professionalism and success rate speaks to their commitment to the mission.”