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Hoeven: Grand Forks Air Force Base equipped to handle another mission

GRAND FORKS — Grand Forks is ideally equipped to add a manned aircraft and implement a communications relay system for unmanned aircraft as part of its Global Hawk mission, Sen. John Hoeven said Monday.

Meeting with the Grand Forks Base Realignment Impact Committee, Hoeven, R-N.D., said the Grand Forks Air Force Base is ideal because of its extensive experience in UAS and conventional manned aircraft, along with the planned development of the Grand Sky aerospace technology and business park.

During the meeting, Hoeven outlined efforts to bring the manned E-11A aircraft and the global Battlefield Airborne Communications Node to the Air Force Base, which already hosts the unmanned Global Hawk. BACN is capable of being installed in both the Global Hawk and the E-11A.

BACN is an airborne communications relay system that extends communication ranges, providing real-time communications capabilities in the air and on the ground across the battlefields, even in mountainous terrain.

“The Air Force can make BACN permanent by using existing facilities at Grand Forks Air Force Base, minimizing costs while retaining a critical communications capability important to our national defense,” Hoeven said Monday. “In addition to the BACN mission and the Global Hawk Block 20, Grand Forks Air Force Base already hosts the Global Hawk Block 40 and is preparing to lease additional space at the base for contractor operations.

That creates opportunity to locate BACN-related contractors to Grand Sky at minimal expense.”

Hoeven, who made the case for the E-11A and BACN in a letter last week to Secretary of the Air Force Deborah James, will meet this week with Deputy Secretary of the Air Force Eric Fanning to further advance the campaign for the E-11A mission in Grand Forks.

“That whole technology, everything from the Block 20, the E-11A and all the communications capabilities that go with it, that fits right in our whole Grand Sky development,” Hoeven said. “If we can pull all this stuff together and get it going here, and that will take some work, it’s the future of aviation.”

The senator also discussed efforts to finalize an Enhanced Use Lease with top U.S. Air Force officials and Grand Forks County to officially establish Grand Sky on the base. The Air Force has announced its intention to sign the lease, enabling the county to build the complex on approximately 217 acres on the base Air Force Base.

In addition, BRIC officials, Hoeven and Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., discussed expediting the integration of UAS into the National Airspace System, which is vital to further development at the Air Force Base, Grand Sky and the region. Grand Forks was notified in December that it would be one of six UAS test sites in the nation.

Kevin Bonham

Kevin Bonham covers regional news, mostly from northeast North Dakota, for the Grand Forks Herald. A North Dakota native who grew up in Mandan and Dickinson, he has been a reporter or an editor with the Herald and Forum Communications for more than 30 years. Find his articles at: He welcomes story ideas via email,, or by phone, (701) 780-1110.  

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