Recent Press Releases

Washington, D.C. —  Senators Tim Johnson (D-SD) and John Thune (R-SD) and Representative Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-SD) today sent a letter to Secretary of the Air Force Michael B. Donley and Air Force Chief of Staff Norton A. Schwartz promoting South Dakota’s Ellsworth Air Force Base as a potential base for MQ-1 and MQ-9 remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) operations. A recently concluded Air Force study names Ellsworth AFB as one of four finalists to host new MQ-1 and MQ-9 split operations squadrons.

“We have been working to make sure that Ellsworth remains a world-class military installation that is well positioned for any mission that serves our national security interests. The federal investments that have been made throughout the years, together with the high quality of life that Rapid City has, make the base an ideal candidate for these unmanned missions. I will continue doing all I can as Chairman of the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Subcommittee to keep Ellsworth a first-rate facility and make sure that the Air Force fully understands the value of our base,” said Johnson.

“Ellsworth has many advantageous attributes for hosting new RPA squadrons,” said Senator Thune. “Ellsworth is home to high-end information technology systems, state-of-the-art facilities, and a quality of life and atmosphere matched by few bases around the country. From my position on the Senate Armed Services Committee, it has become clear that unmanned aircraft are playing an ever increasing role in support of our efforts overseas. Ellsworth is well-positioned to help the Air Force expand its use of these valuable assets which provide real-time intelligence and the ability to carry out extremely difficult missions in remote areas. An added mission at Ellsworth could help ensure its long-term value to the Air Force and South Dakota.”

“Unmanned aerial vehicles continue to play a larger role in our efforts abroad, and Ellsworth is well-suited to take on this new mission,” Rep. Herseth Sandlin said. “I’ve been in frequent communication with Air Force officials about supporting continued investment in Ellsworth, given its significant contribution to our national security. I look forward to working with Senator Johnson and Senator Thune to continue advocating for Ellsworth as the best option for hosting new RPA squadrons.”

The Air Force conducted an “enterprise-wide” analysis of potential bases for new RPA squadrons, with four bases, including Ellsworth, named as finalists. Ellsworth scored extremely well in all categories surveyed, including timing, facilities, embedded expertise, and the ability to integrate units for combat spin-up training. Today, the Air Force began a site assessment at Ellsworth as well as the other bases, and is expected to announce the location for the new RPA squadrons in June 2010. Due to the significant demand for two additional squadrons of RPA’s, once the Air Force makes its decision, the first squadron (280 personnel) could be in place as early as February 2011.

The full text of the letter follows:

April 29, 2010

Honorable Michael B. DonleyGeneral Norton A. Schwartz
Secretary of the Air ForceChief of Staff, United States Air Force
1670 Air Force Pentagon1670 Air Force Pentagon
Washington, DC 20330-1670Washington, DC 20330-1670

Dear Secretary Donley and General Schwartz:

Last week, as part of its strategic basing process, the Air Force published its decision criteria and candidate bases for the next two MQ-1 and MQ-9 remote split operations squadrons. We understand that you have applied that criteria through an “enterprise-wide” analysis, and developed a candidate list of four Air Force bases, with Ellsworth Air Force Base as one of the four bases you will decide on by June to bed down these two new squadrons. As delegation members from a strongly pro-military state, we are writing to encourage you to select Ellsworth AFB not only because of the warm welcome South Dakotans would extend to those who would carry out this new mission, but also because Ellsworth AFB is extremely well-suited to take on this mission immediately.

The remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) mission is of enormous importance in today’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. We understand the urgency associated with increasing capacity for this important mission, and we applaud your actions to rapidly increase this mission capacity in support of our troops overseas. Because of the time-sensitive nature of this issue, we understand the critical importance of making a decision about housing these ground control stations as quickly as possible, and believe Ellsworth AFB is uniquely capable of doing so.

Ellsworth AFB is very well suited for RPA operations. During the Air Force’s evaluation of potential candidate bases, Ellsworth AFB scored extremely well in all categories, and was awarded the maximum points possible in the most crucial areas of timing, facilities, embedded expertise, and the ability to integrate units for combat spin-up training. Within these crucial areas, timing is critical. The warfighter needs this capacity as soon as possible and Ellsworth AFB is ready to receive this mission now. The base recently installed a 10 gigabyte high-capacity fiber communications capability to support the new Air Force Financial Services Center. This capability could enable RPA operations to rapidly disseminate intelligence information to users around the world. The base also contains a 24,000 square foot squadron operations building, recently vacated by the B-1 Air Force Weapon School Squadron, which is absolutely perfect to house these new squadrons. In short, Ellsworth AFB has the capacity, the space and the ability to accept these squadrons now.

In addition to Ellsworth AFB’s suitability for this new mission, Ellsworth AFB also has an outstanding quality of life which is rooted in the strong support the base receives from the communities of Rapid City and Box Elder, and the entire state. In fact, Ellsworth AFB was recently rated by a noted economic consultant as the third most desirable place in the entire military for military families to find a good home.

Finally, we wish to emphasize our unwavering efforts to support Ellsworth AFB as an installation. Together we have worked to ensure Ellsworth AFB remains a vital national asset, not just in terms of the Air Force’s contributions to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but also a valuable asset well into the future.

We respectfully request your close consideration of Ellsworth AFB and its inherent capacity to rapidly accept this new mission during your upcoming discussions and evaluations. If you have any questions, or if we could be of further assistance in this matter, please don’t hesitate to contact us directly.

With kindest regards,

Tim JohnsonJohn ThuneStephanie Herseth Sandlin
U.S. SenateU.S. SenateMember of Congress