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September 4, 2012
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Fallon Naval Air Station could find a role in drone testing

Naval Air Station Fallon may become incorporated into a nationwide multi-service "center for excellence" for the testing and development of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or drones, the Lahontan Valley News and Fallon Eagle-Standard has learned.

Gov. Brian Sandoval, in Fallon to participate in the annual Kiwanis Pancake Breakfast and Lions Club Labor Day Parade, revealed that the Pentagon and FAA are studying a proposal to include NAS Fallon in a "package" with Creech Air Force Base and the Nellis Test Ranges in Southern Nevada into one of seven centers of excellence to be established across the country.

Although the decision to name NAS Fallon a component of one of the centers is months away, Sandoval is "fairly optimistic" the base will be chosen.

"NAS Fallon would be a logical choice for UAV testing and development," he said.

Creech AFB at Indian Springs, about 45 miles north of Las Vegas, already is the nation's foremost center for UAV operations. Testing, critical testing and drone flights also are held at the Nellis ranges, and thus it "makes sense" to include the Fallon base in a proposed Western U.S. "center of excellence," Sandoval added.

There is also an abundance of air space above Churchill County and northwestern Nevada, the flying weather is among the best in the United States and the people here have always welcomed the military to the community, Sandoval said.

Should NAS Fallon become part of a UAV center of excellence, Sandoval believes the base population would expand, and new jobs would be created in Fallon and the county.

"Much of Northern Nevada, including Reno and Carson City, also would benefit from the job growth," he said, noting that it is too early and premature to release job growth figures.

Mayor Ken Tedford Jr., when informed about the proposed UAV center here, also expressed enthusiasm.

"New jobs would come to Fallon and they would aid our economy and the economy of the entire area. The news about the center is really positive, it is a step forward and I hope it becomes a reality," he said.

If NAS Fallon is incorporated with Creech AFB into the proposed center, it would be affiliating with a critically important UAV operational base that has achieved national and international notoriety.

The Air Force's 432nd Wing, which has its headquarters at Creech, is the home of USAF squadrons that fly the MQ-9 "Reapers" and MQ-1 "Predator" drones that are responsible for creating havoc among enemy forces and Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The drones, operated by remote control from Creech, are flown from allied air bases in Afghanistan to enemy-held areas where the Reapers, Predators and other UAVs conduct spying missions and drop missiles and bombs on enemy terrorist targets. The drones are "flown" by controllers located thousands of miles away in trailers at Creech AFB. These controllers are uniformed USAF personnel who receive orders from higher authorities as to where the drones are to be flown, what they should photograph with their cameras and where the drones' weapons are to be sent.

"I have visited Creech several times, and each time I've been amazed and impressed with what the drones can do," Sandoval said.

"They can stay aloft for 24 hours or more without refueling and their high-powered cameras can transmit photographs and videos back to Creech for analysis," he said.

"Creech has recently undergone a $20 million to $30 million expansion and upgrading, and I'm hoping that soon we will be hearing if NAS Fallon will be joining with Creech to form an interservice UAV center of excellence," he said.

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The Nevada Appeal Updated Sep 4, 2012 09:11PM Published Sep 4, 2012 09:08PM Copyright 2012 The Nevada Appeal. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.