Senators John Hoeven and Heidi Heitkamp, Congressman Kevin Cramer and Governor Jack Dalrymple today said they will continue to work to obtain a tanker mission at the Grand Forks Air Force Base, notwithstanding today's Air Force announcement that Grand Forks was not selected as the first main operating base for the new KC-46 Tanker mission.
In a statement released late this morning, the Air Force announced that the first KC-46 active duty unit will be located at McConnell Air Force Base, Kansas. Grand Forks Air Force Base was, however, selected as one of two "reasonable alternatives," meaning they are still eligible in a subsequent round of tanker base selections. There will be several rounds, the next of which will take place no later than the fall of 2015.
"We are working to build a dynamic unmanned aerial systems community in Grand Forks centered on the air base's UAS mission," Hoeven said. "That makes sense not only because UAS represent the future of aviation, but also because we are committed to making Grand Forks the premiere northern tier air base in the nation. That will put us in the running for a tanker base mission in the next round of sitings, as well as for selection as one of six FAA pilot programs designed to integrate UAS into the National Airspace."
"It is certainly disappointing that the Grand Forks Air Force Base was not selected this round, but there are many reasons to be hopeful for future missions. When I spoke to Air Force General Paul Selva this morning, he spoke highly of the Grand Forks community and the presentation put forth by local leaders. I will continue to go to bat for Grand Forks Air Force Base to put it in the best position possible for the next mission," said Heitkamp.
"The strong support from the Grand Forks community has not gone unnoticed, and I will continue to carry their message to our national military leaders as further rounds of basing decisions are made for the KC-46 tanker," Cramer said.
"We will continue to press the Air Force regarding the many reasons why it's in the nation's interest to assign the Grand Forks Air Force Base a new KC-46 Tanker mission," Dalrymple said. "At the same time, our work continues to expand the unmanned aerial systems (UAS) mission at the Grand Forks base as part of a larger, national UAS industry hub."
In a recent letter to Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley and Chief of Staff General Mark Welsh, the North Dakota delegation highlighted the efficiency, strategic advantage, established infrastructure and second-to-none community support that makes Grand Forks a prime location for this mission. The Air Force will make additional basing decisions for the KC-46 as aircraft become available over the next several years.
Grand Forks continues to lead the way in the Air Force Unmanned Aerial Systems, operating both the MQ-1 Predator and the RQ-4 Global Hawk, and is a strong contender for one of six upcoming FAA test sites to develop operations and procedures for sharing manned and unmanned airspace. Additionally Grand Forks is one of a handful of locations the Air Force chose to develop an Enhanced Use Lease program that will develop unused base property to benefit the Air Force and other aviation interests.