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Conrad tours 'brave new world'

With UND's cutting edge research and the air base's new focus, Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., said Grand Forks has positioned itself at the "forefront" of the unmanned aircraft systems industry.

Conrad at UND
UAS lead flight instructor Jeremy McNeal (left) talks Monday with U.S. Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., in the ground control station of the Scan Eagle UAS outside Clifford Hall on the UND campus.(Herald photo by Eric Hylden)

With UND's cutting edge research and the air base's new focus, Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., said Grand Forks has positioned itself at the "forefront" of the unmanned aircraft systems industry.

Conrad toured John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences facilities Monday to learn the latest about the university's research, education and training in the emerging field.

He said Air Force leaders recently confirmed that Grand Forks Air Force Base will get its first three Global Hawk Block 40 aircraft this year, the largest and newest aircraft in the Global Hawk fleet.

Customs and Border Protection flies its only unmanned aircraft on the nation's northern border out of Grand Forks, he said, covering 95,000 square miles along the Canadian border.

Conrad said the local industry in Grand Forks is "leading the way" in commercial applications of the technology.


And UND already is a "world leader" in UAS operations, he said, becoming the first university to offer a UAS degree program, which now has 44 students.

"What a brave new world this is, and it's all happening right here," he said. "We are now the center of UAS development."

Conrad also detailed plans for the 2011 Red River Valley Research Corridor UAS Summit, which will be held June 2-3 in Grand Forks with the theme "UAS 2020: Looking to the Future."

He said the event is a way to highlight the city's "leading role" in the technology and will feature top UAS industry leaders, policy makers and researchers.

"Besides the military and civilian uses of UAS, Grand Forks is also leading the charge in commercial applications," he said. "The summit will show that off as both our local industry and national firms display what they are doing and their visions for the future."

Deficit plan

Conrad also met with the Herald editorial board, discussing his ongoing work to come up with a comprehensive plan to cut the country's growing deficits.

He discussed a series of charts, studies and analysis that he said all points to a "clear" message: "If we don't face up to this debt, we will face diminished economic prospects and event the prospect of a financial crisis," he said.


Conrad said work continues with the so-called Gang of Six, a bipartisan group of six senators who are negotiating to develop a plan to slash the nation's deficits by about $4 trillion over the next decade.

Group members have agreed to not discuss the status of negotiations, he said, but Conrad said he's hopeful their four months of work will soon result in a plan.

"There's still some chance we will not reach conclusion," he said. "I think that's considerably less likely now because we have made enormous progress. But are there still very tough issues to be resolved? Yeah."

Their plan includes tax reforms, spending cuts and tax increases to achieve a $4 trillion deficit cut -- a comprehensive package unlike the one-sided approach offered up by House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., he said.

Conrad said Ryan's plan, which calls for a $6 trillion deficit cut over the next decade, would result in a "draconian" 40 percent cut to the government while adding more than $1 trillion of tax cuts.

"I think it's a very unusual way to face up to this problem where you've got revenue the lowest it's been in 60 years and spending the highest, and the first thing you do is cut revenue some more," he said.

The Gang of Six plan is based on recommendations by President Barack Obama's bipartisan debt commission, he said, which could boost the odds of their budget blueprint getting enough support to pass.

"There's no place else in Washington where there's been any bipartisan agreement on any plan, so that struck our group as a place to begin," he said. "Ryan's plan has got zero Democratic support."


Johnson reports on local politics. Reach him at (701) 780-1105; (800) 477-6572, ext. 105; or send e-mail to rjohnson@gfherald.com .

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