Omaha World Herald: Air Force Doesn't Pick Offutt to House New Drone Unit

Jan 13, 2017
In The News

WASHINGTON — Offutt Air Force Base appears unlikely to be the military base that will house mission control for a new drone unit.

Offutt had been one of five finalists for the remotely piloted aircraft group, but the Air Force has instead opted for South Carolina’s Shaw Air Force Base as its preferred location, according to the office of Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb.

“This is obviously disappointing news for Offutt, in light of the many advantages it would have offered for this new mission,” Fortenberry said in a press release Thursday. “Nevertheless, thanks to its military expertise and robust service model, Offutt is well-positioned to compete as new mission opportunities arise.”

Fortenberry represents Nebraska’s 1st Congressional District, which includes Offutt.

In a statement Thursday, the Air Force said Offutt and the three other bases — in Arizona, Georgia and Idaho — will remain “reasonable alternatives” for the MQ-9 Reaper aircraft unit, and will be considered during the environmental impact analysis.

Nebraska officials and the local business community had hailed Offutt’s selection as a finalist because of the economic impact and jobs it could bring. The Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce had suggested that the additional unit could translate into 500 new jobs and a direct economic impact of $65 million.

The Chamber pitched Offutt’s centralized location, the new headquarters for U.S. Strategic Command at the base and about 134 acres of land and existing structures available for development.

Local officials also touted the “vast local aircrew experience” and local higher education institutions that offer degrees supporting missions at Offutt.

But that apparently wasn’t enough to sell those in charge of the decision.

The state’s congressional delegation has been successful, however, in persuading the Air Force to make upgrades to Offutt’s runway. Fortenberry said those upgrades will set the base up for future opportunities.

Officials at Offutt’s 55th Wing had been informed of the decision and said they are looking ahead.

“We’ll accomplish and do the missions assigned to us, and we’ll accomplish them to the best of our ability,” said Drew Nystrom, a 55th Wing spokesman.

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