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An RQ-4 Global Hawk soars through the sky to record intelligence, surveillence and reconnaissance data.
An RQ-4 Global Hawk soars through the sky to record intelligence, surveillence and reconnaissance data. (U.S. Air Force)

GRAND FORKS, N.D. (Tribune News Service) – The U.S. Air Force is announcing plans for Grand Forks Air Force Base and the 319th Reconnaissance Wing to be leaders in future Air Force Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance missions.

According to a press release issued this week, these plans will be in part thanks to North Dakota senators John Hoeven and Kevin Cramer's advocacy with Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr. about restructuring Air Force Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities to meet the highest national defense priorities.

Hoeven and Cramer said their advocacy with the military regarding the base was to ensure it remained core to the United States' national security mission, prompting the Air Force to lay out its plan for North Dakota, including ensuring the base is central to the Air Force's long-term future in ISR and keeping the RQ-4 Block 40 at Grand Forks AFB through the late 2020s. Hoeven and Cramer said they are also exploring options with the secretary of defense for potentially using the RQ-4 system in new ways as well as transferring the equipment as excess to other federal agencies.

"In next year's budget, we are addressing emerging threats posed by our adversaries and ensuring that the Air Force will have the most capable ISR systems," said Hoeven and Cramer. "Grand Forks Air Force Base and the 319th Reconnaissance Wing are foundational in the Air Force's long-term plan for ISR and joint all-domain command and control capabilities to meet the highest national defense priorities."

According to both senators, an agreement was reached with the Air Force to conduct infrastructure planning next year for construction and renovation projects at Grand Forks Air Force Base, enabling the 319th Reconnaissance Wing to develop and train a crew force and expand operational employment tactics for ISR systems.

The Air Force has also committed to budgeting for construction and renovation projects to occur during 2023-2026 at Grand Forks Air Force Base in support of future 319th RW missions and expand the number of operational units under the command of the 319th RW that are involved in next generation missions, , according to the senators. According to Hoevan and Cramer, these include the E-11 Battlefield Airborne Control Node aircraft mission at Robins Air Force Base, Ga., starting in 2022 and a second geographically separated unit in the future.

The Air Force plans to divest RQ-4 Block 30 aircraft in the fiscal year 2022 budget, which the senators said was critical to modernizing the Air Force for the future battlefield. According to a report, the divestment will allow the Air Force to reinvest $2.2 billion over five years and reallocate approximately 800 people into advanced capabilities, such as those planned for Grand Forks AFB.

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