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Published February 02, 2012, 10:07 PM

Defense Budgets Cuts Could Impact Area UAS Programs

Deep cuts planned for the Department of Defense budget have some worried another round of Base Realignment And Closures could hit Air Force Bases around the country. And, those budget cuts could affect Unmanned Aircraft programs at the University of North Dakota and Northland Community & Technical College.

The Grand Forks Air Force Base learned from the last BRAC round in 2005 to never let its guard down.

The new Unmanned Aircraft Mission at the base has worked its way across the community, from new companies to new educational opportunities. But if the UAS program is affected by the budget cuts, programs at the University of North Dakota and Northland Community & Technical College would take a hit.

With $487 billion to cut from the defense budget, the Air Force is planning to cancel one piece of the Global Hawk mission, the Block 30 program.

"The Block 30, though, is just one step in a phase approach, from my opinion, to where you could be slowly phasing out the Global Hawk. In which, that would be a negative impact on what we've got here," Chief Operating Officer of Aviation at Northland Tech Scott Fletcher said.

The Grand Forks Air Force Base works with the Global Hawk program, but not with the Block 30 aircrafts. However, Northland Tech does. The planned budget cut would affect the new UAS Maintenance Program at Northland.

"If we close the Global Hawk missions, we will struggle just on the maintenance training portions because we don't have that relationship right in town. We're going to have to fly out," Fletcher said.

Another defense budget cut fear is a BRAC round. The last round in 2005 resulted in a new, UAS mission at the Grand Forks Air Force Base, and spawned the UAS program at the University of North Dakota.

"The mission at the base and the mission of our school grew together and they were mutually beneficial to each other," UND Dean of John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences Bruce Smith said.

If the Grand Forks Air Force Base were to face closure, both Smith and Fletcher agree the schools would suffer a significant impact.

"UAV's are going to be the future of aviation for everything but passenger travel, and to lose that would be a tremendous loss," Smith said.

Smith hopes the unmanned aircraft growth in this region will force Air Force officials to see value in the base.

"Everything that this community has to offer, everything the school has to offer, everything that the base and the state of North Dakota has to offer all becomes very important," Smith said.

Fletcher hopes the Air Force will reconsider the Block 30 cut.

"I say absolutely this is going to grow with or without the Block 30, but the Block 30 does impact Northland significantly," Fletcher said.

BRAC rounds have not been authorized by Congress at this point. But the Air Force recently stated it is planning to cancel the Global Hawk Block 30 program.

No cuts have been finalized in President Obama's budget. But for Fletcher and the new program at Northland, the potential of the Block 30 cut will affect the program's curriculum and its partnership with Northrop Grumman.

"We're having discussions with Northrop Grumman on contracts of possibly where we would fit in a maintenance training position with Northrop Grumman, and the Block 30 is part of those discussions," Fletcher said.

In reference to the Block 30 cuts, Northrup Grumman said in a statement that the global security company "is disappointed with the Pentagon's decision, and plans to work with the Pentagon to assess alternatives to program termination."