By Congressman Michael Turner
The House Armed Services Committee recently passed the Fiscal Year 2011 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which contained numerous provisions that will benefit and support regional initiatives in southwest Ohio. One provision calls for a report from the Department of Defense on a potential unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) testing range in Southwest Ohio.
Specifically, the language directs the Secretary of Defense to report on opportunities to use the Sensors Center of Excellence at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base (WPAFB) to integrate unmanned aerial systems into the national airspace system. This Center of Excellence was created in the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process through the consolidation of all sensor missions in the Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. Part of this consolidation of sensors includes the relocation of various radars, creating a unique radar sensing environment in Ohio.
The language also encourages the Department of Defense to work with the Air Force and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to develop procedures to safely integrate UAVs into the nation’s airspace. This includes “sense and avoid” procedures and technologies currently being developed at Wright-Patterson. New technologies are necessary for unmanned aircraft to operate safely in airspace shared with piloted aircraft.
As part of the sense and avoid research at WPAFB, the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) has identified the Wilmington Air Park as a potential test and development site for this technology. AFRL has also looked at the Buckeye and Brush Creek Military Operating Areas as potential locations for flight testing of UAV to demonstrate, detect, sense, and avoid technologies.
The Air Force Research Lab is the natural place to locate this research program. The area has the personnel, the know-how, the capacity and the technology to accomplish this mission. In addition, The Wilmington Air Park and the Buckeye and Brush Creek MOAs offer an ideal test and development site. Combining the Center of Excellence with the Air Park and the MOAs are a unique set of features that deserve to be examined and could lead to important advances in defense technology, and advances for our regional economy.
The various facilities in our region affiliated with Wright-Patterson Air Force Base are vital to the U.S. Military’s success and critical to our local economy. My provision is the first step toward securing a new mission focused on the development of a research and testing program for unmanned aerial vehicles. The assignment of the mission would have long term implications on our ability to increase job levels in Clinton and Highland Counties in the months and years ahead.