Hoeven: North Dakota Breaking New Ground in Autonomous Tech Across a Wide Range of Applications

Senator Discusses Precision Ag, Sky Range & LEO Satellite Mission at Autonomous Nation Conference

FARGO, N.D. – At the Autonomous Nation Conference today, Senator John Hoeven outlined how North Dakota is breaking new ground in the development and implementation of autonomous technology in a wide variety of applications, including agriculture, military and space operations. In particular, Hoeven highlighted his efforts to:

  • Advance the next generation of precision agriculture technology and secure support for Emerging Prairie’s Grand Farm initiative.
  • Establish at Grand Sky the Test Resource Management Center’s (TRMC) Sky Range program, which uses modified Global Hawks for hypersonic missile testing.
  • Link the Space Development Agency’s (SDA) low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellite mission in Grand Forks with the state’s unmanned aerial system (UAS) industry.
    • Hoeven helped advance a SDA project to demonstrate laser communications between satellites and MQ-9 Reapers, which is flown by the 119th Wing in Fargo and produced by General Atomics, a tenant of Grand Sky.

Hoeven also introduced TRMC Director George Rumford, who the senator is again hosting in the state to build upon the convergence he has worked to establish between federal, state, military, private and academic partners in the Red River Valley.

“For 15 years, we’ve worked to build a UAS ecosystem in North Dakota that is unmatched around the globe, and as a result, we continue to break new ground with this technology every day,” said Hoeven. “We’re unlocking new opportunities in our primary industries, like we’re doing with Grand Farm and precision agriculture, while transforming the way North Dakota contributes to the defense of our nation through the LEO mission and Sky Range. The different pieces we’ve put in place continue to converge upon each other, creating limitless potential for growth and investment, as well as a higher quality of life and a more secure nation.”

Advancing Precision Agriculture Technology

Hoeven is working to leverage North Dakota’s global leadership in agriculture and its dynamic technology sector to help advance the next generation of precision agriculture. This includes:

  • Securing $1 million in Fiscal Year (FY) 2022 to support partnerships between the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), universities and outside organizations – like Grand Farm – that are focused on precision agriculture research
  • Expand access to high-speed broadband, including in rural areas, to ensure data-intensive technologies like precision agriculture can be implemented.
    • Hoeven has secured nearly $3 billion across fiscal years (FY) 2018-2022 for the ReConnect Program, a rural broadband loan and grant pilot program.
    • The senator also cosponsored and worked to pass legislation to ensure broadband access in rural areas and improve federal broadband mapping.

Establishing Sky Range in North Dakota

Yesterday, Hoeven and Rumford announced that all twenty Global Hawk Block 30 aircraft have arrived at Grand Sky for the TRMC’s Sky Range program. The transfer was possible due to an agreement that Hoeven secured with Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Brown. As a member of the Senate Defense Appropriations Committee, Hoeven:

  • Secured language supporting the Sky Range program and pressing the Air Force to make the Block 30 fleet available to Sky Range.
  • Hosted TRMC Director Rumford in North Dakota last year to see firsthand the opportunities that Grand Sky offers the agency and the Sky Range program.
  • Helped secure a contract for Northrop Grumman to also convert four Global Hawk Block 20s at Grand Sky into Range Hawks for use under the Sky Range program.

Currently, the Department of Defense (DoD) uses an aging fleet of ships deployed across a Pacific Ocean corridor to test hypersonic missiles, which is expensive, takes weeks to set up and signals the testing schedule to America’s adversaries. Sky Range would replace the ships with modified Global Hawks that could deploy quickly and increase testing capacity through the creation of additional testing corridors in the Pacific and elsewhere. 

Standing up SDA’s LEO Mission 

Last year, Hoeven, working with the SDA Director and Senator Kevin Cramer, secured Air Force approval to stand-up SDA’s new LEO satellite mission at Grand Forks. As a member of the Senate Defense Appropriations Committee, Hoeven then worked to secure $18 million in Fiscal Year 2022 funding to establish SDA’s space networking centers. Over time, the mission could include not only operating SDA satellites, but also linking them with UAS, which would complement Grand Forks’ role in Air Force intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) missions.  

Prior to this, Hoeven hosted SDA Director Derek Tournear in North Dakota to outline efforts to establish the new center and announce the new laser communications project, which SDA is pursuing in conjunction with General Atomics. The senator also joined Tournear to review launch operations at Cape Canaveral, where the SDA launched five satellites central to the space networking center and the General Atomics project.