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Defense spending bill has money for Fort Drum drone hangar expansion

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FORT DRUM — New York Air National Guard officials are enthusiastic about newly approved funds that will allow the expansion of the Reaper drone hangar at Wheeler-Sack Army Airfield.

The new 2014 defense authorization bill includes $4.7 million to build two more bays on the $5,194,860, two-bay hangar of the 174th Attack Wing, which opened in early November.

Before the hangar was built, the wing’s MQ-9 Reapers were housed in a temporary structure next to the airfield’s rapid deployment center. The unit also has a collection of the aircraft at its main location at Hancock Field Air National Guard Base, Syracuse.

The spending bill passed in both houses late last week, and was signed into law by President Barack Obama on Thursday afternoon.

“The importance is that the new facility will allow us to do maintenance operations with all four aircraft at Ft Drum, and allow us to vacate the temporary facilities that we’re borrowing from the 10th Mtn Div,” Col. Greg A. Semmel, the unit’s commander, said in an email to the Times. He also said the building expansion project would give the unit a place for its forward operating location work.

The commander said he expected to have work on the expansion start toward the end of the fiscal year, which is in October.

The unit has operated at Fort Drum’s airfield since October 2011, with locally based crew members operating the drones remotely during takeoff and landing and Syracuse-based pilots taking over via satellite once the drones are in the air. Maintenance of the aircraft also has been done at Wheeler-Sack Army Airfield. The unit has had the ability to train with live munitions at the post’s ranges since December 2012.

In addition to the Air National Guard Reapers, the Army likely will place its own unmanned aircraft at the airfield in 2014.

According to data presented to the Fort Drum Regional Liaison Organization in early December, the service will place a group of about eight to 10of the aircraft, which are smaller than the Reaper aircraft, along with about 128 personnel by about July.

In addition, the post will request $24 million in the 2015 defense spending bill for the creation of a hangar for its group of aircraft.

The aircraft placement is a part of a several hundred-million-dollar plan to place the aircraft with divisions across the Army. The 3,600-pound Gray Eagle aircraft, equipped with up to four Hellfire missiles, has been used for a variety of missions including surveillance, convoy protection and air support.

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