On UAS initiative: UND, Northrop Grumman, other partners sign strategic alliance agreement


Peter Johnson

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On UAS initiative: UND, Northrop Grumman, other partners sign strategic alliance agreement

UND and other partners in the region took another major step Thursday, May 30, toward creating what U.S. Sen. John Hoeven described as "the premiere hub for Unmanned Aircraft Systems."

Hoeven brought the partners—UND, Northrup Grumman, the Grand Forks Base Realignment Impact Committee (BRIC), UND Aerospace Foundation (UNDAF) and Northland Aerospace Foundation—together Thursday, May 30, to sign a historic strategic alliance agreement as part of the Unmanned Aircraft Systems Action Summit he co-sponsored with U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, Northrup Grumman, the Red River Valley Research Corridor and the city of Grand Forks.

"I can't think of anywhere else in the country with this level of partnership," said Hoeven, who was joined at the signing by Rep. Kevin Cramer and Gov. Jack Dalrymple. All three said the signing improves the Grand Forks area bid with the Federal Aviation Administration to become one of six national test sites for integrating unmanned aircraft into manned airspace.

At the signing, Hoeven called the UND John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences the "premiere school of aerospace and aviation in the country," and called Northrup Grumman an industry leader. He echoed Thomas Vice, Northrop Grumman's Corporate Vice President and President of its Aerospace Systems Sector, who signed the document and who, as the summit keynote speaker earlier in the day, talked about the revolution in UAS in the air, on land, and in the sea. Vice talked about a host of applications, such as cargo transportation, agricultural applications, and law enforcements needs, such as searching for missing persons.

Dr. Barry Milavetz, Associate Vice President for Research and Economic Development, signed the strategic alliance agreement on behalf of UND, and Chuck Pineo, Chief Operating Officer, signed on behalf of the UND Aerospace Foundation. Milavetz said UND's UAS enterprise continues to grow, particularly as it relates to education, research, and service. He noted, for example, that UND started the nation's first Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Research Compliance Committee, designed to explore and consider privacy concerns and other social issues. The committee has multiple stakeholders, including first responders; city, county, and state government—including a state's attorney; community members; UND Aerospace; and other faculty with backgrounds in law, philosophy, ethics, and history.

UND has also established collaborations with other higher education institutions, including North Dakota State University in Fargo, N.D., Northland Community Technical College in East Grand Forks, Minn., and, most recently, Lake Region State College in Devils Lake, N.D.

The signing of the partnership agreement paves the way for Grand Forks County and the U.S. Air Force to agree on terms for an Enhanced Use Lease (EUL), with Northrop Grumman working with its partners toward becoming the first tenant in a new high-tech, UAS complex at the Grand Forks Air Force Base. County officials are on track to approve the terms of the EUL, which it calls Grand Sky, within the next few weeks.

The county and its partners, the BRIC and the Center for Innovation Foundation, plan to make Grand Sky a state-of-the-art aviation business and technology park focused on providing cutting-edge facilities for unmanned aerial systems development.

Within 90 days of approving the lease terms, the county and Air Force would sign an agreement to lease the land pending a National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) review. The actual lease agreement for Grand Sky is expected to be finalized and signed by mid-October, according to Hoeven.

Hoeven began working last year with Vice to help forge the new alliance. In October, Hoeven brought Northrop Grumman senior executives, including Vice, to Grand Forks to explore the possibility of a partnership between the company, the Air Force and Grand Forks County.

"This strategic alliance agreement and enhanced use lease will create a one-of-a-kind technology park, Grand Sky, at the Grand Forks Air Force Base. It will actually provide a revenue stream to the Air Force and bolster our chances of getting one of six planned UAS test sites and stimulate private investment and job creation across the entire Grand Forks region," Hoeven said. "Northrop Grumman will provide top-notch expertise in the unmanned aircraft systems field, and Grand Forks Air Force Base will provide the perfect location to put the company's vast knowledge and innovation to good use. The agreement and lease will help us to make Grand Forks the premier UAS base in the northern tier, which will pay big dividends in terms of jobs and economic activity to the community for years to come."

"The strategic alliance with Northrop Grumman offers North Dakota a great opportunity to build on its UAS success and experience with a known industry leader," said Heitkamp. "This sort of public-private partnership can help unleash the economic potential that UAS offers. I look forward to working with everyone involved in this effort to make this alliance a success."

Under the EUL, land that the Air Force identifies as unused can be leased to a local development group that will invest in programs and facilities that support the missions performed at the base. The development group can then make it available to private companies. In this case, Grand Forks County intends to lease land from Grand Forks Air Force Base for the purpose of supporting the base's unmanned aircraft systems activities, including the Air Force's Global Hawk mission performed by the North Dakota Air National Guard and the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection.

Northrop Grumman is working with its partners to use land on the base as the initial tenant. The company is currently working with state, local and private-sector leaders in the region to identify opportunities to increase UAS business in North Dakota.

Over the course of the lease, additional private aviation interests and academic institutions, including UND, will have the opportunity to train, maintain and research unmanned aircraft systems at Grand Forks Air Force Base.

(This news release includes information provided by the Office of U.S. Senator John Hoeven.)

Peter Johnson

Executive Associate Vice President for University Relations

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