Sumter doesn’t fear the Reaper: New Shaw unit could have $100M impact

The announcement that Shaw Air Force Base will likely become home for a new MQ-9 Reaper personnel unit could mean a $100 million economic impact for Sumter.

This significant figure comes from statements made by Air Force officials last month, as they conducted an on-site evaluation of the local base.  Back then, James Olsen, community planner for the 20th Civil Engineer Squadron, indicated to Air Force journalists that, if awarded to Shaw, the new unit could end up having a nine-figure economic impact.

“Currently, Shaw AFB provides over $900 million annually to the local economy,” Olsen said in December. “If selected for either the wing or squadron option, our economic impact could push the base to over $1 billion annually.”

While the actual drones – or remotely piloted aircraft, as they are called within the Air Force – are not expected to be housed at Shaw, the bulk of the financial gain for the area should come from the estimated 420 airmen expected to locate at the Sumter base.  Those airmen, if they do locate to Shaw, and that possibility should now be considered highly likely, are expected to begin arriving as soon as October.

With them, those men and women will bring with them the task of operating an aircraft seeing an ever-increasing role in the country’s military efforts.

Used significantly in the battle against ISIS, the Reaper has been credited with several significant strikes, including the 2015 death of ISIS member Mohammed Emwazi, the extremist seen in a series of propaganda videos beheading people of behalf of the terrorist group.  The vehicle has also seen its moments of controversy when, last July, the Air Force reported a Reaper crashed and was destroyed during a mission in Syria.

While often referred to as drones, these General Atomics unmanned combat aircraft are nothing like the aircraft civilians and hobbyists are familiar with of the same name.  Costing around $16.9 million each, the Reaper weighs about 5.25 tons when fully loaded, stands about 12 feet high, are about 36 feet long and have a 66-foot wingspan.  Each Reaper has a flight range of 1,150 miles, a cruising speed of around 140 miles per house, can reach heights of 50,000feet and can be loaded with a wide array of observation equipment and munitions, including Hellfire missiles.

In announcing the decision, Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James praised the local military installation.

“Shaw AFB was selected because it was the best option to help us diversify assignment opportunities for personnel within the MQ-9 enterprise, provide increased opportunities for leadership from within the community, and provide flexibility to enhance integration with other organizations and capabilities,” James said.

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