Hoeven Working to Secure Future ISR, Counter-UAS & Unmanned R&D Initiatives in Red River Valley

Senator Invited ACC Commander to ND to Review & Strengthen GFAFB Missions, Advance Partnerships with UND & Grand Sky

GRAND FORKS, N.D. – Senator John Hoeven this week hosted General Kenneth Wilsbach, Commander of the Air Combat Command (ACC), in Grand Forks to discuss current and future Air Force operations in the Red River Valley. As a member of the Senate Defense Appropriations Committee, Hoeven invited Wilsbach to visit North Dakota during a meeting earlier this year, as the general was preparing to take command of the ACC, and again in a call last week. As part of the visit, Hoeven, along with Wilsbach and Senator Kevin Cramer, held meetings at the Grand Forks Air Force Base (GFAFB), the University of North Dakota (UND) and Grand Sky. This comes as part of Hoeven’s efforts to:

  • Secure future intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) missions for GFAFB.
  • Bolster key infrastructure at Grand Forks Air Force Base, including:
    • Improvements to the runway.
    • Fire protection facilities.
    • Construction to support the Space Development Agency (SDA) missions at GFAFB.
  • Leverage North Dakota’s expertise in unmanned aviation, including forging further partnerships between the Air Force and institutions like UND and Grand Sky to:
    • Strengthen U.S. counter-UAS capabilities.
    • Demonstrate and validate UAS applications for the military through Project ULTRA and similar initiatives across the state.
    • Maximize the value of Grand Sky’s Enhanced Use Lease with GFAFB.

“The Red River Valley is home to essential Air Force and Air Guard operations, as well as a robust UAS industry with research, development, testing and training capabilities unmatched by anywhere else in the world,” said Hoeven. “That’s why we invited ACC Commander General Wilsbach to this region. This is about strengthening our existing missions and laying the groundwork for future partnerships and operations, from conducting ISR to developing counter-UAS and practical applications for unmanned aircraft.”

Securing Future ISR

As part of annual defense funding and authorization bills, Hoeven has repeatedly passed a prohibition on retiring the Global Hawk fleet and worked to secure full funding for the mission. Doing so helps ensure the U.S. maintains its ISR capabilities while future Air Force and Space Force ISR is developed and put into place. To this end, Hoeven:

  • Has secured commitments from key military leaders to work with him to prevent a gap in U.S. ISR capabilities.
  • In addition to General Wilsbach, raised this priority with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Charles Brown, Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall and Air Force Chief of Staff General David Allvin.

Testing & Demonstrating UAS Applications

Hoeven also made the case for ACC to utilize Project ULTRA, a new UAS initiative the senator established and funded, to develop, test and demonstrate a wide range of Air Force applications for unmanned aircraft:

  • Hoeven worked to create the project to accelerate practical applications for UAS, not only to benefit GFAFB, but provide a template for UAS activities at installations across the country.
  • Project ULTRA received an open contract valued at up to $18.25 million and can continue to receive funding in subsequent years.
  • Currently, the project is developing the capability to deliver military cargo using UAS.
  • Hoeven included funding in FY2024 appropriations legislation that is expected to support subsequent task order this fall to conduct a demonstration flight between Grand Forks Air Force Base and Cavalier Space Force Station. 

Counter-UAS Capabilities

            Hoeven continues to advance North Dakota’s UAS industry as a key partner in empowering the military to develop more cost-effective methods for countering adversaries’ use of drone technology. Hoeven outlined to Wilsbach how threats such as drone swarm attacks against Israel and Ukraine, as well as UAS incursions into airspace near U.S. military bases, require significantly more expensive counter measures from the U.S. and its allies.

Accordingly, the senator stressed the opportunity to utilize Project ULTRA and the resources of Grand Sky, the Northern Plains UAS Test Site, UND and others in the state to develop less resource-intensive methods for protecting against UAS threats. This comes in addition to legislation Hoeven helped introduce and pass to support the development of counter-UAS technology and protect important facilities from potential misuse of unmanned aircraft. Hoeven is now sponsoring a bill to renew and expand upon the authorities created under this law.