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Reserve Sailors 'Single-Greatest Boon' to Navy's First Unmanned Patrol Squadron


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By Chief Mass Communication Specialist (Sel) Chelsea Milburn

NAVAL BASE GUAM  –  As the Navy’s first unmanned squadron, the “Big Red” of Unmanned Patrol Squadron (VUP) 19 has stretched its wings far and wide since its establishment in late 2013. Reserve Sailors assigned to VUP-19’s Reserve component have played a major role in the squadron’s continued success.

VUP-19 is one of 28 active duty squadrons augmented by Training and Administration of the Reserve (TAR) and Selected Reserve (SELRES) Sailors.

“The VUP-19 Reserve Component has seven TAR officers and 86 SELRES officers and enlisted aircrew who provided nearly 30 percent of qualified aircrew manpower for the squadron’s fiscal year 2021 main operating base (MOB) in support of U.S. 7th Fleet operations,” said the VUP-19 Reserve Component Commanding Officer, Cmdr. Nate Wolf.

As the active component rotates personnel in and out of the squadron and forward operating base (FOB), Reserve component Sailors are able to remain in place, allowing for the buildup of critical resident knowledge and the mentoring of new squadron members. In addition to operational flight schedule support, Reserve component members also serve in leadership roles within the squadron.

“The Reserve Force has been the single greatest boon to the Navy’s first unmanned squadron, VUP-19,” said VUP-19 Commanding Officer Cmdr. Brian Conlan. “Capitalizing on a wealth of professional experience both inside and outside of the Navy, the VUP-19 Reserve Component harnessed the most diverse group of naval aircrew to deploy the MQ-4C Triton into the most challenging environments and deliver a force multiplier to fleet commanders and national decision makers. Backgrounds in the maritime, tactical, fighter, and test platforms, complemented by civilian know-how and best practices, deliver a cutting-edge threat against our adversaries. These folks truly embody citizen soldiers, and VUP-19 enjoys an incredible level of success because of what they bring to the fight.”

Reserve Sailors were instrumental in the 2021 repositioning of VUP-19’s FOB in Guam to Misawa, Japan, which allowed the squadron to avoid the cold temperatures and convective activity associated with latitudes close to the equator during the summer months in an effort to increase MQ-4C Triton 7th Fleet presence.

The FOB, which has since returned to Guam, is slated to continue to shift between Guam and Misawa rotationally.
The Reserve Component Sailors who provided essential support to this effort hold a variety of roles within the squadron, detailed by Wolf below:

Mission/Operations Planning Direct Support
Members of the VUP-19 Reserve Component are subject matter experts in mission planning and are heavily relied upon to create and build operational mission plans for the squadron. This is one of the most important functions for putting an unmanned aircraft into flight. The mission plan is used by the brains of the aircraft, the Integrated Mission Management Computer (IMMC), to perform all the automated functions. The aircraft simply cannot fly without a valid and safe mission plan and the Reserve Component leads this effort.

Squadron Detachment OIC/ LNO in Misawa, Japan
The squadron has used five Reserve component senior officers this past year to act as forward detachment officer in charge (OIC) and liaison officer (LNO) to the force commander. These officers are in charge of running the day-to-day site operations to maintain, launch, and recover the MQ-4C Triton aircraft. In addition, they handle the care and feeding of the forward-deployed Sailors, enabling them to keep Triton flying.

Forward Operating Base Pilots in Misawa
Triton has four Air Vehicle Operators (AVOs) forward deployed to support the launch and recovery of the Triton aircraft. These AVOs will detach forward for about two months at a time and have a local control station that allows them to have a direct line of site command and control connection to the aircraft. Four Reserve AVOs have deployed forward to both Guam and Misawa.

Repositioning Flight Crew Members
The repositioning of [unmanned aircraft systems (UAS)] has increased complexity when compared to manned aircraft. The aircrew rely on several satellite constellations to maintain a beyond the line of sight (BLOS) command and control connection. We had multiple Reserve aircrew handpicked for their experience to fly the air vehicle to both of its reposition missions.

VUP-19 Reserve Component not only supports the squadron’s operations in the 7th Fleet Area of Responsibility, but in all of the squadron’s operations.
Reserve Sailors comprised 75% of the crew in the inaugural launch for the Triton aircraft from Naval Station Mayport in January 2022, providing 8.2 hours of ISR support to Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG) 2.

“I could not be prouder of my Sailors as they continue to answer the call and provide amazing operational support to the Fleet,” said Wolf. “We will continue to always ask for ways to get in the fight to stand hand in hand with our active component brothers and sisters.”

The VUP-19 Reserve Component supports VUP-19 in its mission to employ the baseline MQ-4C Triton aircraft to provide persistent intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR), distributing valuable and time-critical intelligence to combatant and fleet commanders. Cmdr. Nate Wolf has turned over responsibilities as VUP-19 Reserve Component commanding officer to Cmdr. Matthew Romero.

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