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Hoeven: North Dakota is 'unmatched' in UAS capabilities

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Grand Forks Air Force Base Commander Col. Benjamin Spencer discusses the base's unmanned aircraft operations during Tuesday's UAS summit at the Alerus Center in Grand Forks. (Photo by April Baumgarten/Grand Forks Herald)2 / 2

The unmanned aircraft industry is growing fast, and North Dakota is positioned to lead the way.

That’s what government, military, educational and sector leaders emphasized Tuesday during the UAS Summit in Grand Forks.

“When we talk about UAS, this is where it’s at,” U.S. Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., told more than 300 attendees at the Alerus Center. “Everyone is asking all the time about what is going on in North Dakota. North Dakota is the go-to place for UAS.”

The summit’s speakers described their own institutions and how they play a role in expanding the UAS industry.

Beyond line of sight flights approved at Grand Sky UAS tech park have convinced businesses to look to Grand Forks as a base for operations, said Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D.

“That makes us the place to come,” he told the Herald. “Businesses can develop technology and test here.”

Drone capabilities at Grand Forks Air Force Base also make North Dakota a candidate for Arctic missions and air guard training, Hoeven said. He said the chance of both happening is good because the state has “ the tools and expertise to take on challenges” in the UAS sector.

“North Dakota brings a set of UAS capabilities to the table that remains unmatched around the country,” Hoeven said in a statement. “We have worked over many years to put all of the components in place and, as a reward, we will be the leader in advancing the UAS industry across (all) sectors.”

Other topics included strategies to defend against UAS threats and traffic management proposals. Airspace management is critical to operations at Grand Forks Air Force Base, base Commander Col. Benjamin Spencer said. The advances in operations at the base, including night operations with restrictions, have allowed the base to “push the envelop,” he said.

“We continually strive to be more effective and efficient in the way we integrate (unmanned aircraft) into the airspace and how we manage that airspace,” he said. “Bottom line, Grand Forks Air Force Base is going to continue to lead the way in this emerging and maturing mission set.”

Cramer said oil prompted the country to talk about North Dakota, but others look to the state for help when it comes to the UAS industry.

North Dakota can be more than just oil and agriculture if it pursues opportunities in UAS and autonomous systems research, UND President Mark Kennedy said as he explained the school’s Research Institute for Autonomous Systems. Launched in the spring, RIAS could attract federal and commercial funds, propose and evaluate public policies and pursue classified research opportunities that match UND’s skills and facilities.

“I view this as being bigger than North Dakota,” Kennedy said, adding he wants UND to be a regional center for researching the capabilities of autonomous systems. “This is the No. 1 opportunity to expand North Dakota’s economy beyond oil and soil, in my opinion.”

April Baumgarten

April Baumgarten joined the Grand Forks Herald May 19, 2015, and covers crime and education. She grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, where her family raises registered Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at Jamestown (N.D.) College, now known as University of Jamestown. During her time at the college, she worked as a reporter and editor-in-chief for the university's newspaper, The Collegian. Baumgarten previously worked for The Dickinson Press as a city government and energy reporter in 2011 before becoming the editor of the Hazen Star and Center Republican. She then returned to The Press as a news editor, where she helped lead an award-winning newsroom in recording the historical oil boom.

Have a story idea? Contact Baumgarten at 701-780-1248.

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