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Air Force Featured Stories

Eyes in the sky

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Shane M. Phipps
  • 30th Space Wing Public Affairs
With an aim to enhance comprehensive base safety and security, the 30th Security Forces Squadron is bolstering its Small Unmanned Aircraft System program.

The model of Unmanned Aerial Vehicle employed at Vandenberg, known as Raven-B/DDL, requires two security forces operators and is utilized for its ample reconnaissance capabilities.

"We have provided aerial security for every launch since May of last year," said Tech. Sgt. Benjamin Hawkinson, the 30th SFS NCO in-charge of SUAS operations. "We fly around the space launch complexes checking the mountain tops for any incursions. We really can be ready to help in numerous ways, from assisting the fire department with search and rescue and checking for possible hot-spots after a launch by using our infrared camera, to doing coastal sweeps for drug interdictions. The SUAS is an invaluable asset."

With flights over housing and off the installation prohibited, the primary mission of the Raven is to reach remote areas of the base which are difficult to access otherwise.

"It's extremely beneficial, especially to help the fire department," Hawkinson said. "I can use this to direct them to fires that are not easily accessible by foot, and I can provide them with a photo of the scene and precise coordinates, as well as maintain aerial surveillance and give them real-time updates over the radio."

Although it's an additional duty for 30th SFS members, becoming an operator offers multiple unique benefits.

"I put in my resume for SUAS because it's a great opportunity to learn something new in my career field," said Senior Airman Matthew Riddle, a 30th SFS response force member. "It really has a very important mission for the wing because this base is so large, but with this we can cover the hard to reach areas on the ground. It feels great knowing we can use this to keep members and their property even safer."

For the first time in almost a decade SUAS training can be conducted on Vandenberg AFB, saving the Air Force dollars.

"We are unique because we now have the frequencies, the airspace and the equipment to be able to bring a couple of instructors here, instead of sending our guys to Florida, which saves the Air Force money in the long-run," Hawkinson said.

In addition to numerous in-garrison applications, the system can be utilized downrange within a joint and coalition environment.

"My goal is to get these members trained so they can do real-world missions here at Vandenberg," said Bryan Williams, a 371st Special Operations Training Center UAV instructor at Hurlburt Field, Florida. "However, everyone we train is held to the same standard, so once members here are trained, they should be able to easily integrate with operators from other branches, as well as special forces."