Retired Air Force drones arrive at Grand Sky, will aid in hypersonic missile testing
The drones will be used to assist in hypersonic missile testing over the oceans. U.S. Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., said the SkyRange program has 16 corporate partners and seven armed services and defense agencies.
EMERADO, N.D. — Local and state leaders joined with North Dakota’s federal leaders at the Northrop Grumman hangar on Wednesday to mark the arrival of all 20 Global Hawk Block 30 aircraft at Grand Sky for the SkyRange program.
SkyRange is a Department of Defense initiative to retrofit long-endurance drones, like the Block 30s and other versions, with advanced instrumentation to support high-priority DoD flight tests. The drones will be used to assist in hypersonic missile testing over the Pacific or Atlantic oceans. U.S. Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., said the SkyRange program has 16 corporate partners and seven armed services and defense agencies. Some partners include Northrop Grumman, General Atomics, Honeywell, BlueHalo, Stratolaunch and many others.
“We’re right here building it. We’re the heart and soul of this whole new concept (in North Dakota),” Hoeven said.
U.S. Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., said while hypersonic missiles were invented in the United States, other countries have “put a lot more behind it than we have” since then.
“The reality is that we’re catching up and we’re getting further ahead,” he said, adding the Block 30s will be a “game changer” compared to lining up ships in the ocean.
A hypersonic missile launches like a rocket into outer space and then comes back down and quickly glides toward its target, Cramer said.
In 2021, China tested a nuclear-capable hypersonic missile that circled the globe, missing its target slightly, the Financial Times reported last year. Cramer said the test was “eye-opening for a lot of people,” adding that Russia has also conducted many hypersonic missile tests.
This SkyRange program will be key for future testing of hypersonic missiles for the country, Cramer said, noting it involves the armed forces agencies, as well as intelligence and technology agencies.
“It’s critical to the entire nation,” he said.
During the ceremony, Test Resource Management Center Director George Rumford noted the importance of testing and the potential role this information could have in future conflicts, adding that “this is where wars are won.”
Cramer said he believes that “much of what Russia is experiencing in Ukraine is because they didn’t do a lot of this.” He said he believes Russia doesn’t pay attention to the same level of detail as the U.S. when it comes to testing and preparation.
“They’re making mistakes we don’t ever want our military to ever make,” he said.
Hoeven said the new SkyRange program will provide essential data and information that will allow the United States to “move ahead of the competition.”
“This revolutionizes how we develop hypersonics,” he said.
The aircraft, Cramer said, are retired and otherwise would likely “head to the boneyard” if they couldn’t be used by another agency in some other way.
“Now they’re value added,” Cramer said. “This is huge. This is now a major contributor in a way that they weren’t initially intended to be.”
Global Hawks have been the "workhorse" for U.S. Air Force intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions for more than 20 years, said Jane Bishop, vice president and general manager, global surveillance, at Northrop Grumman.
"In their new mission, RangeHawks will provide the over-the-horizon altitude, persistence, payload and flexibility that is critical for collecting telemetry and other data to monitor hypersonic weapon testing, increasing testing capacity," she said.
Bishop said RangeHawks are equipped with sensors to demonstrate an alternative data collection support system to test hypersonic systems, and have participated in several hypersonic tests events to date in Pacific corridors and elsewhere.
"These aircraft will continue their role in vital national security missions while enabling us to bring premier aircraft design, modification, operations and sustainment work to the Grand Forks community," Bishop added.
Grand Forks Mayor Brandon Bochenski, Grand Forks County Commissioner Chairman Tom Falck and a number of other local leaders were in attendance on Wednesday.
Following the announcement, Hoeven and Cramer participated in a Community Leaders SkyRange Fleet Expansion information session at Minnkota Power to discuss the economic and employment impact on the greater Grand Forks community and northeast North Dakota.