Hoeven: North Dakota Developing Unprecedented Autonomous Capabilities with a Global Reach

Senator Kicks Off Autonomous Nation Conference

HORACE, N.D. – Senator John Hoeven today kicked off the Autonomous Nation Conference being held at Grand Farm and outlined how North Dakota is developing unprecedented autonomous capabilities with a global reach. Specifically, Hoeven highlighted two ongoing efforts in Grand Forks that will shape the future of unmanned aerial systems (UAS) operations:

  • Space Networking Center – The center will support the Space Development Agency’s (SDA) new low-Earth orbit (LEO) mission, which will serve as the backbone for all U.S. military communications across the globe.
    • The senator is working as a member of the Senate Defense Appropriations Committee to secure funding for the new center and link it with unmanned operations in the Red River Valley.
  • Laser Communications Demonstration – The SDA recently awarded $6 million to General Atomics to demonstrate satellite to MQ-9 laser communications, which will utilize the LEO system.
    • Utilizing lasers, rather than radio frequencies, enables transmissions between satellites and unmanned aircraft to use less power and be more secure against detection and interference.
    • These capabilities could be used to enhance the MQ-9 mission flown by the North Dakota Air National Guard’s 119th Wing in Fargo.

The senator stressed that combining unmanned aircraft with the LEO satellite network will enable timely and reliable communications between mission command, UAS and warfighters located anywhere in the world. 

“The success of our military depends not only on having the strongest force, but also on our ability to access the latest data and act upon it,” said Hoeven. “That’s where North Dakota’s leadership in UAS comes in. We are partnering with the SDA on the next generation of communications technology and tying it into our unmanned missions to create an unprecedented level of autonomous capability that will support military operations across the globe. Further, this is just one way our state is leading in autonomous technology, and we continue working to leverage Grand Farm and our UAS ecosystem to realize the benefits of this technology in energy, agriculture and a wide variety of other sectors.” 

Securing SDA Operations in North Dakota

Senator Hoeven, along with Senator Kevin Cramer, has been working with SDA, including Director Derek Tournear, to identify funding priorities to help advance the new satellite networking center. The senators also discussed this priority with Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Brown, Jr. during his visit to Grand Forks in February.

Following this, Hoeven hosted SDA Director Dr. Derek Tournear in North Dakota to outline efforts to establish the new center and announce the new laser communications project. The senator then 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.

The satellites will fly in low-Earth orbit (LEO) and be used to demonstrate the capabilities of a planned, broad network of satellites. Of these, the two Laser Interconnect and Networking Communication System (LINCS) satellites will demonstrate laser communications between satellites and MQ-9 Reaper, which is flown by the 119th Air Guard Wing in Fargo.

Supporting Grand Farm

Hoeven is working to support Grand Farm’s efforts to develop and implement the next generation of precision agriculture technologies. To this end, the senator worked to fund and secure the implementation of the Rural Innovation Stronger Economy (RISE) Program, which supports innovation clusters in rural regions, with the goal of spurring high-wage job creation, new business formation, business expansion and economic growth. Hoeven’s efforts include:

  • Securing a total of $10 million for RISE over Fiscal Years (FY) 2020 and 2021.
  • Including language in annual funding bills to prioritize projects like Grand Farm.
  • Pressing USDA officials, including Secretary Vilsack, to complete the program’s implementation.
  • Securing a commitment from Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Dr. Jewel Bronaugh to visit North Dakota and learn more about Grand Farm firsthand.

Hoeven also invited Grand Farm Director Brian Carroll to testify at a hearing of the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Committee on opportunities to diversify farm income and strengthen rural economies.