Hoeven Makes the Case with Air Force to Locate Remotely Piloted Aircraft Wing at Grand Forks

Senator Also Pushes for Tanker MIssion at GFAFB

WASHINGTON – At a Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations hearing Thursday and a meeting earlier this week, Senator John Hoeven made the case with top Air Force officials to base a new remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) mission at Grand Forks Air Force Base.

The senator has been working with Assistant Secretary of the Air Force Miranda Ballentine, and General Herbert J. “Hawk” Carlisle, commander of Air Combat Command, to highlight the advantages for basing a new RPA mission at Grand Forks Air Force Base. General Carlisle has called for a new RPA wing to augment the Air Force’s fleet of MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper RPAs.

“The Air Force will be going through a process to determine where to base additional unmanned aircraft, so I’m making the case both to Assistant Secretary Ballentine, of the Air Force, and the head of Air Combat Command General Carlisle, that Grand Forks Air Force Base is the right location,” Hoeven said. We have everything and more for unmanned aerial systems, making us the right base.

The assets supporting a decision for Grand Forks Air Force Base include:

• Grand Forks Air Force Base’s existing Global Hawk mission

• Customs and Border Protection’s northern border patrol operations using the MQ-1

• Grand Sky, the county’s new UAS Technology and Business Park, which hosts Northrop Grumman and General Atomics, which manufactures the MQ-1 and MQ-9

• The John D. Odegard School of Aerospace at the University of North Dakota

Ballentine indicated at the hearing that the Air Force expected to announce the criteria for the basing in the next few weeks and complete their scoring sometime this summer. They will then announce the candidates and arrange site visits. Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James is expected to make a decision on the location sometime next winter. The first aircraft should be placed by the spring of 2020.

Working to Bring the KC-46 Tanker Mission Back to Grand Forks

Hoeven also pressed Ballentine to choose Grand Forks as an Operating Base for the KC-46 tanker. He noted the base’s northern location is a strategic advantage for the Air Force during a meeting with Ballentine earlier this week. When asked by Hoeven about the basing process during Thursday’s hearing, Ballentine responded that the Air Force expects to narrow the field of candidates later this spring and begin site visits over the summer. Grand Forks was a finalist for the KC-46 when the Air Force last chose an active duty installation to receive the aircraft.

Hoeven also thanked Secretary Ballentine and the Air Force’s civilian leadership for their innovation and creativity in working with Grand Forks County to lease the property that is now home to Grand Sky technology park. Hoeven lauded the use of public-private partnerships (P3s) as a model for the future.