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North Dakota To Get Predator Missions

The Air Force plans to have 15 squadrons of Predator (pictured) unmanned aerial vehicles spread throughout the United States.
by Pamela Hess
Washington, (UPI) June 3, 2005
The U.S. Air Force is planning to base two unmanned aerial vehicles in North Dakota, replacing the reserve fighter aircraft squadrons that will be folded into other units around the country, top officials said Friday.

The change is part of the controversial base realignment and closure process and an effort to draw the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve into active duty Air Force missions.

The Air Force plans to have 15 squadrons of Predator unmanned aerial vehicles spread throughout the United States. There are three based at Indian Springs, near Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., and Air Force Special Operations Forces have recently been approved to set up their own squadron.

In December the Air Force announced that other squadrons would be based in Arizona, Texas and New York and manned by Air National Guard pilots and other personnel.

North Dakota will be added to the list and is slated to be on the receiving end of a squadron of 12 aircraft and ground stations.

The Air National Guard there will also become the second U.S. base for the high-altitude Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicle, a long-distance, long-loiter pilotless aircraft meant to supplement and ultimately replace the U-2. Global Hawks are currently only based at Beale Air Force Base, Calif.

Air Force officials said Friday there are seven more squadrons of 12 Predators each they will be looking for homes for in the coming months, as the Base Realignment and Closure Commission weighs the Pentagon's request to close 33 of the 318 major military installations in the United States and realign 29 others. The Pentagon also recommended closing or realigning 775 smaller military locations for a total projected savings over 20 years of $49 billion.

The Air Force's BRAC recommendations would affect 115 of its 154 installations. It is recommending 10 base closures and 62 realignments, changes it says will result in $14 billion savings over 20 years.

The Pentagon's four previous BRAC rounds -- in 1988, 1991, 1993 and 1995 -- closed 97 major bases and realigned 55. Another 235 minor installations were also affected. The Pentagon says this has saved about $18 billion through 2001 and $7 billion a year since.

The two UAVs offer the Air Force unique flexibility in making basing decisions as it awaits congressional approval for the changes. The UAVs can be launched and flown from two different sites at far-flung locations. The Predators now at work in Afghanistan and Iraq -- conducting surveillance and periodically launching Hellfire missiles at targets -- are controlled by ground-based pilots with joysticks in Nevada.

The Predator air vehicles will be physically based at Grand Forks Air Force Base, and most of the operators will be in Fargo. There are approximately 35 rated fighter pilots in the Air National Guard based in Fargo. The new squadron will require the addition of another 35, because the aircraft are operated around the clock. Some 500 to 600 people will be needed in Fargo specifically to support Predator operations, not including personnel required for base operations.

The number of personnel needed for the Predator mission in North Dakota is likely to be similar to the number employed for the standard fighter mission, Air Force officials said. How fighter pilots will take to being grounded is another question.

The Air Force plans to buy 51 Global Hawks over the next few years; it has five on hand. The system is still in its infancy, and Grand Forks offers the Air Force massive open airspace where it can experiment with the air vehicle and not worry about crossing the paths of commercial airliners.

All rights reserved. Copyright 2005 by United Press International. Sections of the information displayed on this page (dispatches, photographs, logos) are protected by intellectual property rights owned by United Press International. As a consequence, you may not copy, reproduce, modify, transmit, publish, display or in any way commercially exploit any of the content of this section without the prior written consent of by United Press International.

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