Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., spoke about efforts to develop the Department of Defense’s new Sky Range program at Grand Sky while headlining the first day of the UAS Summit & Expo Wednesday at the Alerus Center.

Hoeven and George Rumford, the director of DoD’s Test Resource Management Center, who is working to develop the Sky Range Program, spoke for 30 minutes about the project of converting Range Hawks to test hypersonic missiles. The Global Hawk Block 20s were decommissioned Wednesday afternoon, and Hoeven and company are working on plans to decommission the Block 30s as well.

“It took them a little longer to decommission because of Afghanistan and everything, so the 20s are last year’s business,” Hoeven said. “The 30s are this year’s business. So, it’s not done yet. The Sky Range program is underway, but we’re (funding) it and we’re taking it step by step.”

The DoD currently uses a fleet of ships in the Pacific Ocean to test hypersonic missiles while only being able to conduct four to six tests each year because of the extensive amount of time it takes to deploy and position the ships for testing. A concern among military leaders is that the process signals to adversaries that testing will begin. Sky Range allows modified Global Hawks, which deploy quickly and allow for increased testing, to replace the ships.

“But, guess what?” Hoeven said. “Our adversaries go, ‘Hey, they’re lining up their ships out in the ocean again. Gee, maybe they’re going to go do some tests, and how about we all watch with our satellites and other systems.’ So, our adversaries know when we’re testing.”

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Hoeven is now trying to get the Air Force’s 20 Global Hawk Block 30s to Grand Sky once they are decommissioned. Under the Sky Range program, the Block 20s and 30s will be converted after decommission to apply sensors necessary for testing. Hoeven said Block 30s being converted is not a sure thing yet, but that it’s in the works.

“Block 30 is part of a larger package in essence that we’re working on right now,” Hoeven said. “The Block 30 is going to be decommissioned. There will be new mission development, because that $2.2 billion that we’re spending now needs to be shifted into new mission funding. We will be part of that new mission.”

Hoeven also touted the locality of the project, which he said, even though Northrop Grumman is the general contractor, will allow for local contractors to make bids to do work on the project.

“Now, you’ve got to change the telemetry on the aircraft, because they’ve got to look up instead of look down, so they’re going to have subcontractors do that,” Hoeven said. “They don’t do it all themselves, hence opportunities here. These guys will be able to bid to do that telemetry to reverse looking up instead of looking down, so that creates contracting opportunities.”