UAV missions put into writing
The Air Force's top two officials put their support in writing Tuesday for bringing unmanned aerial vehicle missions to Grand Forks and Fargo. Acting Air Force Secretary Michael Dominguez and Gen. John P.
The Air Force's top two officials put their support in writing Tuesday for bringing unmanned aerial vehicle missions to Grand Forks and Fargo.
Acting Air Force Secretary Michael Dominguez and Gen. John P. Jumper, the Air Force's chief of staff, outlined their plans for the bases in a three-page letter to the Base Realignment and Closure Commission.
Most of the information in the letter was announced last week by Air Force officials who said the Grand Forks Air Force Base would receive Predator and Global Hawk UAVs to replace the 50 KC-135 air tankers the base is slated to lose by 2009.
Having that in writing from the top Air Force brass carries a lot more weight, said Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., who called the letter "very positive."
"They're not lukewarm about this. They're very strong in support of carving out new missions," he said.
Specifically, the letter states that the Grand Forks base will become home to a "family of UAVs" with intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance functions.
The Air Force also will establish a Predator unit at the Air National Guard's 119th Fighter Wing in Fargo to backfill the 22 F-16 fighter jets slated for retirement by 2007.
While the 119th still hopes for a new flying mission, Tuesday's reinforcement of the UAV mission was "very encouraging" and something the unit is interested in pursuing, said Master Sgt. David Somdahl, the unit's public information officer.
The letter also states that the growth of the UAV mission will include transition to the Predator MQ-9, the addition of the Global Hawk UAV at the Grand Forks base and "emerging missions and associations at both locations."
When they appeared before the BRAC Commission on May 17, Dominguez and Jumper were asked why they didn't recommend closing the Grand Forks base and Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska when there was no replacement mission specified for either base.
Tuesday's letter answered those questions, stating that the Grand Forks base's location, weather and vast airspace over limited population make it well-suited for the UAV mission. The University of North Dakota's aerospace studies program also offers some "unique opportunities" to focus on UAV efforts, the letter states.
The letter doesn't say how many UAVs Grand Forks and Fargo will receive, or how many personnel it will take to fulfill the mission.
"We really do need more specificity," said Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D.
The state's congressional delegation had asked Jumper and Dominguez to deliver the letter to the commission before it comes to Grand Forks for a public hearing on June 23, Conrad said.
"Because the commission and their staffs need to see that the Air Force is serious about the plan," he said.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528