Hoeven Urges Secretary Nielsen to Utilize Grand Sky in Expanding UAS Border Operations & Implementing Counter-UAS Legislation

Senator Follows up on DHS Secretary’s Visit to North Dakota, Continues Advancing Capabilities to Protect Against UAS Misuse & Strengthen Border Security

WASHINGTON – At a hearing of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee (HSGAC) this week, Senator John Hoeven urged Kirstjen Nielsen, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), to make use of Grand Sky, North Dakota’s unmanned aerial systems (UAS) research and development park, as the agency works to grow its UAS border security operations. U.S. Customs and Border Protection currently flies Predator unmanned aircraft out of Grand Forks to help secure 900 miles of border. Secretary Nielsen committed to work with Hoeven as the agency looks to expand this mission.

Further, the senator stressed the role Grand Sky can play in implementing the Preventing Emerging Threats Act of 2018. This bipartisan legislation, which Hoeven helped introduce and Congress passed last week, protects important facilities from security risks posed by unmanned aircraft and directs the DHS to conduct research and test technology to address emerging threats posed by the potential misuse of UAS. This week’s hearing builds on Secretary Nielsen’s recent visit to North Dakota, which the senator arranged to demonstrate how the state is uniquely positioned to develop counter-UAS capabilities and strengthen border security through expanded unmanned aircraft operations.

“North Dakota is at the forefront of the UAS industry, which Secretary Nielsen got to see firsthand during her visit in August,” Hoeven said. “The administration is already a strong partner in our UAS efforts, and it only makes sense that federal agencies continue to rely on our local expertise and facilities, like Grand Sky, as they work to address the latest issues and opportunities in the UAS sector. We’re urging Secretary Nielsen to do just that as DHS looks to increase the use of UAS in securing our borders and as it implements our Preventing Emerging Threats Act. We will continue to monitor these priorities, both to secure North Dakota’s role and to provide any future authority or funding that is needed to move these efforts forward.”

Hoeven remains committed to advancing the development and implementation of these much-needed security capabilities, while also advocating for the administration to utilize North Dakota’s UAS industry in such efforts. To this end, the senator has worked to promote the following priorities:

  • Advancing the safe integration of unmanned aircraft into the NAS. Hoeven worked to ensure the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization bill passed last week extends authorization through 2023 for the UAS test sites, including the Northern Plains UAS Test Site in North Dakota. Further, Hoeven:
    • Joined Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao to announce that North Dakota was selected as one of ten sites to participate in the FAA’s UAS integration pilot program.
    • Hosted U.S. Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson in the state for the first flight of an unmanned aircraft that goes both beyond the visual line of sight (BVLOS) of the operator and without a chase plane. This achievement was possible due to two key items Hoeven secured in recent years, including an updated certificate of authorization for the test site from the FAA and upgrades to the DASR-11 radar system at the Grand Forks Air Force Base and a similar system in Fargo.
  • Developing counter-UAS technologies. Hoeven has included $13 million for counter-UAS technologies in Fiscal Year (FY) 2019 funding legislation, while also directing DHS to report on its funding needs in this area for the next five years.
  • Allowing both the National Guard and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to use private contractors, like those at Grand Sky, to train their UAS pilots. Hoeven’s National Guard measure was signed into law last year, and his CBP provision is included in FY2019 funding legislation.
  • Maintaining the Global Hawk UAS mission. As a member of the Senate Defense Appropriations Committee, the senator secured $100 million in the FY2019 funding legislation to provide for the purchase of an additional Global Hawk aircraft to carry the Battlefield Airborne Communications Node (BACN) payload in Grand Forks.