Recent Press Releases

Washington, D.C. —  Senator John Thune today announced that the Air Force has selected Ellsworth Air Force Base in Rapid City as one of four finalists to bed down two squadrons of Remotely Piloted Vehicle (RPV) operations. This is part of a broader effort to increase the number of MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) combat air patrols operating over Afghanistan and Iraq. The Air Force currently operates 41 RPV orbits, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in support of the Global War on Terror. By the end of Fiscal Year (FY) 2013, the Air Force plans to increase the unmanned patrols to 65 around-the-clock orbits.

“Ellsworth Air Force Base and the Rapid City community continue to play vital roles in support of our nation’s security,” said Thune. “Ellsworth’s B-1 bombers have been providing on-call close air support to troops in Afghanistan with outstanding success. If Ellsworth is fortunate enough to gain this new mission, it will enhance Ellsworth’s key role in the global war on terror.”

The RPV operations would enable the Air Force to meet the 65 orbit goal by the end of FY 2013. Each of the new squadrons would be responsible for flying five unmanned air patrols per day and each would provide vital intelligence information to commanders and troops on the ground. This new mission would be comprised of personnel and ground control stations only, and would not include aircraft.

While the aircraft are unmanned, it takes hundreds of people to operate and support this new mission. This decision could bring 560 new active duty airmen, Air Force civilians, contractor personnel, plus their families, to Ellsworth and the Rapid City area. The Air Force expects to decide on a base by June 2010. The first squadron of 280 personnel could be in place as early as February 2011.

In 2008, Ellsworth installed a high-capacity communications system to support the Financial Services Center – which Senator Thune worked to bring to Ellsworth Air Force Base. This same 10-Gigabyte fiber network that the Financial Services Center utilizes could enable the potential RPV operations to not only communicate with the remote aircraft, but also rapidly disseminate intelligence information to users around the world.

Senator Thune is the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee’s AirLand Subcommittee, which has oversight over UAV’s. Senator Thune is also on the Senate Armed Services Committee’s Readiness Subcommittee which has oversight responsibility for basing and infrastructure.