Senator says N.D. can play role in Air Force Arctic mission

By Patrick C. Miller | October 20, 2014

The U.S. Air Force mission in the Arctic could lead to greater opportunities for the unmanned aerial systems program at Grand Forks, North Dakota, according to U.S. Senator John Hoven, R-N.D.

Hoeven and members of the Grand Forks Base Realignment Impact Committee met last week with Air Force officials at Northern Command headquarters at Peterson Air Force base in Colorado. NORTHCOM is the joint command responsible for all U.S. military missions in and around North America, including the Arctic region.

The meeting was prompted by an updated Department of Defense Arctic strategy report on changes that provide greater access to the region for uses including energy development, fishing, shipping, tourism and other activities.

Hoeven and Air Force leaders discussed how the UAS mission at Grand Forks Air Force Base can play a role in NORTHCOM’s Arctic operations. Hoven said because Grand Forks is closer to some parts of the Arctic than even Alaska, the base is well positioned for a role in this new military undertaking.

Located adjacent to the base is Grand Sky, a 217-acre development with infrastructure planned specifically for unmanned testing. It provides access to the base runway, links to the Northern Plains Federal Aviation Administration test site, partnerships with aviation-based academic institutions and space for tenants with airside and landside options.

Hoeven said Grand Sky’s maintenance facilities and other UAS infrastructure could eventually provide support to Arctic deployments. In addition, he noted that the University of North Dakota’s new aerospace and UAS research, training and education facilities could strengthen North Dakota’s position for Arctic missions. 

“This is yet another reason we’ve worked so hard to make the region a national hub for research, development, testing, operations and the commercialization of unmanned aerial technologies,” Hoeven said. “The Arctic region is emerging as an important focus for the U.S. military. That means the Northern Command will need the right tools to secure America’s interests and national security in the region, including reconnaissance aircraft like the Global Hawks based at Grand Forks Air Force Base.”

Representing NORTHCOM were Maj. Gen. Charles D. Luckey, chief of staff, North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command; Maj. Gen. John F. Newell III, director of strategy, policy and plans, North American Aerospace Defense Command; and Col. Thomas K. Hensley, deputy director of intelligence, North American Aerospace Defense Command.