Proposed budget cuts to Air Force drone programs don’t mean imminent danger for Grand Forks Air Force Base, but it still is unnerving for those who understand the base’s significance to Grand Forks and the region.
The news came last week, when President Trump announced a defense budget that could eliminate two dozen RQ-4 drones, part of a fleet that does long-range surveillance missions for the military. GFAFB does not currently have any specific craft slated for elimination, but it does have other variations of drone aircraft. And the drones slated for potential cuts do fall under the local base’s supervisory umbrella. That’s causing at least some consternation.
Remember: The cuts may not actually ever become reality, since it’s just part of the president’s proposed $740.5 billion budget. But it’s still worthy of contemplation in a community that enjoys a strong relationship with the Air Force.
GFAFB pumps upwards of a quarter of a billion dollars into the local economy, including salaries, contracts and job creation. It brings families from around the country to Greater Grand Forks, many of whom stay after their stint in the military.
We don’t see the budget as necessarily bad news. Not yet.
Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., told the Herald last week that he doesn’t believe this threatens Grand Forks Air Force Base “in the short run.” He said the base is positioned well for the future.
But he also said he won’t “take anything for granted.” That’s sage advice for a community that for years has been saddled with worry about the local base’s future.
We appreciate a note sent last week by Grand Forks/East Grand Forks Chamber of Commerce President Barry Wilfahrt, who called the proposed budget “challenging news” for Grand Forks Air Force Base.
“Do not panic as this is a proposal, not a decision,” Wilfahrt wrote to members of the chamber’s Military Affairs Committee and Golden Eagles Club. “Congress now needs to do their work. Now we make our case.”
In his note, he recalled past concerns, including 2012-14, when the Department of Defense called for the retirement of Global Hawks. But the state’s congressional delegation pushed back, noting the Global Hawk provides important defense capabilities that no other platform can provide. Wilfahrt also notes a letter from the delegation to the secretary of defense, urging that since the military does not have the ability to replicate the abilities of the Global Hawk, the program should not be retired.
“In the meantime, keep our airmen in mind as this uncertainty is unsettling to them as they wonder what their future is with the Air Force,” Wilfahrt wrote. “Please let them know that our senators and congressman are fighting for their mission, and our community embraces them and their families.”
The proposed budget cuts are just that – proposed. And they don’t necessarily impact aircraft stationed at our air base. But it’s a quick jab in the eye nonetheless, and one that should muster action by base boosters in the community and by our state’s congressional delegates.