It wasn’t that many years ago that the future of the Grand Forks Air Force Base was in question, but with the rise of the unmanned aerial system industry (UAS, UAV), the base is now positioned better than ever. And the industry is driving new education opportunities as well private sector investment in the community. It’s been a huge win for Grand Forks thus far.
And the future looks bright. Senator Hoeven issued the following news release commenting on the status of the mission and the bases growing importance.
— Official News Release, Senator Hoeven —
Senator John Hoeven Thursday discussed key missions for Grand Forks Air Force Base with General Herbert J. “Hawk” Carlisle, commander of Air Combat Command, following the general’s visit to Grand Forks Air Force Base (GFAFB) this week.
Hoeven and Carlisle discussed the Air Force’s commitment to the battlefield communications mission that is performed by the Global Hawk Block 20, the role the Global Hawk Block 40 can play in a possible Arctic mission, as well as future training for unmanned aviation, both with the mission at Grand Forks Air Force Base and North Dakota’s one of a kind Grand Sky Business and Technology Park located on the GFAFB.
“The Air Force’s decision to permanently retain the battlefield communications technology and use the Global Hawk Block 20 to deliver it is very important for the Grand Forks Air Force Base,” Hoeven said. “Also the Global Hawk Block 40 mission has positioned Grand Forks Air Force Base as a viable location to perform future missions in the Arctic. The base’s UAS mission and Grand Sky technology park right there on the base creates a good location and a strong mission to help train future pilots of the MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper.”
Block 20 and E-11A UAS Mission at Grand Forks
Hoeven said that Carlisle informed him that the Air Force will retain the Global Hawk Block 20 and the E-11A, both of which carry the service’s Battlefield Airborne Communications Node (BACN), technology that enables warfighters on the ground and in the air to link otherwise incompatible communications systems and maintain communications links over very rugged terrain.
The Air Force had planned to downsize the BACN fleet, but making it permanent means Grand Forks Air Force Base can retain the Block 20 mission. In addition, the senator has pushed to have that the E-11A based at Grand Forks when it returns from overseas missions. Hoeven said that while the BACN mission was originally developed as a wartime capability, Carlisle said it would become a permanent Air Force capability.
“The decision to make the communications technology permanent solidifies the Block 20 mission already at Grand Forks and keeps Grand Forks Air Force Base in the running as the future home of the E-11A when it returns from overseas missions,” Hoeven said.
Pilot Training to Support Air Force Arctic Missions
Hoeven and Carlisle also discussed the Global Hawk’s capability to support Air Force missions in the Arctic region. The Global Hawk Block 40 can reach the Arctic from Grand Forks, raising the possibility that Grand Forks training missions could be used to conduct operational missions in the far northern region.
“I believe the Air Force could use Arctic flights as training opportunities for Global Hawk pilots,” Hoeven said. “I urged General Carlisle to evaluate this plan as a way of increasing our presence in the Arctic region at an affordable cost.”
Hoeven and Carlisle also reviewed the capabilities at Grand Sky technology park at Grand Forks Air Force Base, particularly the park’s capacity to train pilots to fly the MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper. Hoeven pressed Carlisle to use the capabilities and facilities at Grand Sky to alleviate the Air Force’s shortage of Predator and Reaper pilots. Carlisle indicated that the Air Force continues to study the role that private contractors can play to ensure the Air Force meets strong demands for MQ-1 and MQ-9 operations overseas.