Grand Forks Herald
GRAND FORKS — The suspected Chinese spy balloon and other unidentified flying objects shot down by the United States military in February have led Sen. John Hoeven, R-North Dakota, to look at ways North Dakota could help secure America’s airspace.
On Monday, March 20, Hoeven met with leaders from Grand Forks, UND and the area’s unmanned aerial systems industry at UND to discuss how the Grand Forks region can help secure the U.S. against the threat of unidentified aerial phenomena, also known as UAPs. Hoeven serves on the Senate Defense Appropriations Committee.
In February, multiple unidentified flying objects were shot down over the U.S. and Canada, including an object the United States government says was a Chinese spy balloon. The balloon, which China claims was for monitoring weather conditions, was
shot down off the coast
near Holden Beach, North Carolina, on Saturday, Feb. 4.
Another unidentified object was shot down by U.S. Air Force and National Guard pilots
over Lake Huron
on Saturday, Feb. 11. A day earlier, an
unidentified flying object was shot down
near Deadhorse, Alaska.
Hoeven said the United States needs to be proactive with technology to detect and defend against UAPs.
“Our adversaries — which are primarily Russia and China along with Iran and North Korea and some others — they’re always probing, and so we always have to take the next step. We have to be ahead,” said Hoeven.
Earlier in March, Hoeven met with Gen. Glen VanHerck, commander of the U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM) and North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) to discuss resources in the Grand Forks region that could play a part in Department of Defense strategy for countering UAPs.
At the March 3 meeting, Hoeven talked about resources like the early warning radar at the Cavalier Space Station, unmanned aerial vehicles based at the Grand Forks Air Force Base and Hector Field in Fargo, expanded radar coverage of North Dakota that supports unmanned aircraft operations, the Northern Plains UAS Test Site and UND research of counter-UAS measures.
Attendees at Monday’s meeting offered suggestions for how Grand Forks could assist NORTHCOM and NORAD with UAPs.
Trevor Woods, executive director of the Northern Plains UAS Test Site, suggested Vantis, North Dakota’s beyond-visual-line-of-sight flight system for UAS, could be part of the solution.
“There’s an opportunity here that the system could be tied in for observation,” said Woods.
Tom Swoyer, president of Grand Sky, said deploying UAS rather than manned aircraft could be a cheaper option for identifying UAPs and destroying UAPs determined to be a threat to the U.S.
“We have those assets here now that can deploy very quickly and that’s a much lower cost scenario to figure out what we’re dealing with,” said Swoyer.
Hoeven says he hopes to see Grand Forks UAS and defense leaders put together an integrated approach to tracking UAPs to propose to national defense agencies.
At Monday’s meeting, Hoeven also discussed the recently approved waivers for beyond-visual-line-of-sight flights for UAS at Northern Plains UAS Test Site and the economic impact of the Sky Range hypersonic missile testing program.
General Atomics was approved to conduct BVLOS flights
using Vantis. Hoeven said he is working with the Federal Aviation Administration to streamline the process for other UAS companies that want to conduct BVLOS flights at Northern Plains.
Hoeven is also working to secure funding for the
Test Management Resource Center’s Sky Range program
at Grand Sky, which hosts a Global Hawk fleet. He said the program is expected to bring more than $100 million worth of construction and $300 million in annual operations to Grand Sky.
Hoeven said advancements like Vantis and Sky Range will draw more UAS industry to Grand Forks.
“It used to be that we were always chasing something, and now people are having to come here because of what we have now,” said Hoeven.
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