We’ve Spotted a Secret American Drone Base in Jordan
The United States' second Jordanian UAV site
Satellite imagery has revealed a previously unreported American drone base in Jordan. Flying from the remote desert air base in the northeastern part of the country, U.S.-built MQ-9 Reaper drones are in a perfect position to monitor and strike targets in Iraq and Syria.
This is the second Reaper base — after Muwaffaq Salti — that we know exists in Jordan.
A review of imagery suggests the drones relocated to the base between November 2014 and January 2015, not long after U.S. forces began targeting Islamic State in Syria. At the time, the terrorist group extended its self-declared caliphate from the north of Aleppo to the south of Baghdad — a territory much larger than the U.S. military and CIA patrolled during previous campaigns in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen.
The new airfield on May 7, 2017. DigitalGlobe image
Prior to the drone deployment, imagery showed new structures at a fenced-in area on the south side of the runway. It’s possible these additions, which appeared in late 2014, support the new activity at the location. Not long afterward, workers erected a single clamshell shelter on the airfield’s north side parking apron, where space snapshots captured the strike drone parked the following year.
By early 2016, the drone apron was in the process of being expanded. Two additional shelters as well as a new berm perimeter featured prominently in imagery. Immediately behind the apron, further clearing and leveling activity continued. Eventually, new support structures — possible expeditionary living quarters for ground and maintenance crews — were visible later in the year.
With a total of three clamshell shelters measuring 50 meters in length, it’s possible three combat air patrols, each comprised of three to four aircraft, fly from the location. Imagery showed no satellite communication equipment for the aircraft suggesting the location remains a launch and recovery site.
However, it’s not just drones that the base houses. Known locally as H4, the air base features a couple of different platforms belonging to the Royal Jordanian Air Force, including six AH-1F Cobras apparently from the 10th and 12th Squadrons, as well as one Cessna 208B from 15 Squadron. The Cessna helps watch the border, while the Cobras stand ready to strike.
At least six MQ-1 Predator, two MQ-9 Reapers and four other unidentified drones at Jordan’s Muwaffaq airbase on March 4, 2016. Airbus Defense and Space imagery
According to U.S. budget documents, the U.S. military may also be helping sustain that security. The 2016 Omnibus Appropriations Act provided “not less than” $1.275 billion in bilateral economic and military aid for Jordan. The act also authorized Department of Defense funds to increase or sustain security along Jordan’s borders.
That level of funding should continue … at least in the short-term. In February 2015, Washington and Amman signed a non-binding memorandum of understanding in which the United States pledged $1 billion in aid annually until 2018.
Jordan and the United States remain invaluable partners in the region. Although never linked by a formal treaty, America has provided Jordan with military aid since 1957. Given the country’s contribution to security in the region as well as Pres. Donald Trump’s stance on terrorism, the United States will undoubtedly continue the relationship.