Space Force, drones, remote ID take center stage at UAS Summit

North Dakota senators participate in the 14th annual event.

Prior to Gen. James Dickinson's remarks at Robin Hall on the campus of UND on Monday, Sept. 14, Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., took the opportunity to emphasize North Dakota as a key player, citing university research, upcoming cadets and current military facilities. Kimberly Wynn / Grand Forks Herald

Plans for the United States Space Force continue to coalesce into a vision of affordable technology -- satellites -- that will quickly relay battlefield information to soldiers on the ground and unmanned aerial vehicles, when they encounter future threats.

According to U.S. Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., the Space Force is making progress in becoming an organization nimble in staffing, innovation and acquisition. The nation’s recently authorized sixth military branch doesn’t need to staff the number of positions compared to other branches of the military and can focus on selecting accomplished people to fill its ranks. The Space Force also partners with other military laboratories, commercial companies and universities to keep a fresh flow of ideas and talented people into those ranks.

“I am pleased with how Space Force is building its staff and initial cadre,” Cramer said. “Slow and deliberate, with as much focus on what they don’t need while still growing to what they do need.”

And what the Space Force doesn’t need throws a portion of military doctrine on its head. It doesn’t require programs that cost billions of dollars and more than a decade of design and selection to produce aircraft that need to stay in service for decades, such as the F-35 fighter jet, Cramer said.


In the task of getting information to the warfighter as quickly as possible, Space Force is partnering with the Space Development Agency, an independent federal agency that operates under the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Research & Engineering. The SDA’s goal is to create a mesh network of hundreds satellites that can track targets -- ships, missiles in flight -- and, in a matter of seconds, deliver a solution to another military branch to encounter the threat. The first satellites in the network are under order now and are expected to be in operation by 2022.

"That's the whole point of the space development agency, to be able to get those capabilities to the warfighter and do it in a timeframe of, we're talking a handful of years,” said Derek Tournear, director of the Space Development Agency.

Cramer and Tournear gave their remarks at the 14th annual UAS Summit, held online this year in response to the coronavirus pandemic. The summit, usually held in the Alerus Center, brings together idea and policy makers with end-users of unmanned aerial vehicles to discuss industry happenings at present as well as what’s in store for the future.

UND President Andrew Armacost said the university’s expertise in UAS research can act as a link between the development of those systems and connections to space-based systems, while providing skilled workers in the field. Armacost said he has a vision to design and control satellites from Grand Forks.

“These research efforts certainly strengthen our mission to educate our students, which represents an important workforce development opportunity for the nation and a force multiplier for our (Department of Defense) partners, including the new U.S. Space Force, and also for industry,” Armacost said.

U.S. Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., a staple participant in past UAS summits, joined a panel discussion with Federal Aviation Administrator Steve Dickson and Brig. Gen. Heather Pringle, commander of the Air Force Research Laboratory based in Dayton, Ohio. Hoeven outlined his efforts to prevent the early retirement of the Global Hawk UAV flown out of Grand Forks Air Force Base, while expanding its mission.

“We continue to invest in these operations, including improving the capabilities of the UAS missions in Grand Forks and Fargo to serve a wider range of roles in our nation’s defense,” Hoeven said.


Hoeven also said recent developments at the Northern Plains UAS Test Site, and with other UAS developers in the region, will lead to conducting beyond visual line-of-sight flights across North Dakota. BVLOS is the key to integration into the national airspace, but with integration comes concerns about security and safety.

On that topic, Dickson said the FAA is close to implementing a rule to remotely identify UAVs. Doing so will figuratively tie a drone to its operator, making it possible for law enforcement to locate operators should they fly their UAV in restricted airspace or in a criminal or negligent manner.

“That's the cornerstone for threat discrimination by law enforcement,” Dickson said.

Derek Tournear, director of the Space Development Agency, center, tours UND's Aerospace facilities on Wednesday, Oct. 14 Eric Hylden / Grand Forks Herald

Adam Kurtz is the community editor for the Grand Forks Herald. He covers higher education and other topics in Grand Forks County and the city.

Kurtz joined the Herald in July 2019. He covered business and county government topics before covering higher education and some military topics.

Tips and story ideas are welcome. Get in touch with him at, or DM at @ByAdamKurtz.

Desk: 701-780-1110
What To Read Next
Get Local