Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall recently announced construction and renovation to Grand Forks Air Force Base, North Dakota, solidifying its position as the future of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions for the service.
The center of that effort is the 319th Reconnaissance Wing, which is based at Grand Forks and has subordinate units in Georgia, California, Italy and Guam.
“We’re excited to provide vital strategic capabilities to the Joint force,” said Col. Timothy Curry, 319th RW commander, in a news release. “Grand Forks AFB will remain central to the Air Force core ISR mission today and in the future.”
Officials expect a planning phase for most of next year with construction and renovation at Grand Forks to begin in 2023, according to the release. The entire project should conclude by 2026.
The current Air Force budget request looks to divest the the aged Joint Surveillance and Target Attack Radar System aircraft and the RQ-4 Block 30 aircraft, according to the release. Those cuts are expected to free up money for better systems to counter peer threats.
Despite those divestment plans, the 319th RW will continue operating the RA-4 Block 40 aircraft into the late 2020s, according to the release.
Beyond construction, the plan will expand the number of operational units under the 319th RW for “next-generation” missions. Those will include the E-11 Battlefield Airborne Control Node aircraft mission at Robins Air Force Base, Georgia, starting next year.
Earlier this year, Air Force Times reported that the Air Force’s plans to phase out the JSTARS aircraft and radar system would begin with deactivating four plans in fiscal 2022. Then acting Air Force Secretary John P. Roth estimated it would take about five years to phase out the whole program.
That shift, officials said in May, would free up 2,000 active duty and National Guard airmen at the Georgia base for the four new missions coming to Robbins AFB. That included the Advanced Battle Management System. The system is an intelligence-gathering network, still under development, that facilitates real-time information sharing between satellites, military aircraft, commanders and ground forces.
“The E-11 brings strategic capability and advantages for the joint force, which is the mission of the 319th RW,” Col. Timothy Curry, 319th RW commander, said in June.
Another unit, also geographically separate from Grand Forks, but not named in the release will fall under the 319th RW in the future.
Back in 2007, the Associated Press reported that the service had sent a team to Grand Forks, beginning preparations for the base’s “new unmanned aerial vehicle mission.”
At the time, the base was being considered for Predator and Global Hawk drones as well as the service’s new tanker, then-Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Michael Moseley told the news service.
Air Force Times’ sister publication, Defense News, reported in 2018 that the first-ever trans-Atlantic drone flight by a medium-altitude, long-endurance drone was made from Grand Forks.
The flight, coordinated by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. covered more than 3,000 miles, sending the MQ-9B from North Dakota to Gloucestershire, England.
Todd South has written about crime, courts, government and the military for multiple publications since 2004 and was named a 2014 Pulitzer finalist for a co-written project on witness intimidation. Todd is a Marine veteran of the Iraq War.