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Vandenberg could become home to major new drone, training missions

Col. Chris Moss, 30th Space Wing commander, revealed potential new missions for Vandenberg Air Force Base during the annual State of Vandenberg luncheon on Wednedsay, March 8, 2017.
Col. Chris Moss, 30th Space Wing commander, revealed potential new missions for Vandenberg Air Force Base during the annual State of Vandenberg luncheon on Wednedsay, March 8, 2017. Noozhawk.com

Vandenberg Air Force Base could become home to programs that would bring two dozen unmanned aerial vehicles and hundreds of airmen to the Central Coast.

Col. Chris Moss, 30th Space Wing commander, revealed the potential new missions Wednesday during the annual State of Vandenberg luncheon, which is hosted by the Santa Maria Valley and Lompoc Valley chambers of commerce.

“In the past week, last week and this week, we’ve had two site-survey teams that are trying to decide if Vandenberg will become home to new missions,” Moss said near the end of the 40-minute speech.

One team assessed Vandenberg’s suitability to become home to a large unit for the MQ-9 Reaper program, which could bring 24 remotely piloted aircraft and 1,600 personnel to the base.

“That’s a very exciting mission opportunity for Vandenberg,” Moss said.

The 99,000-acre base installation is one of four finalists to house the MQ-9 Reaper, an armed, multimission remotely piloted aircraft that is employed primarily against targets but can also collect intelligence, the Air Force said.

Other bases in the running are Eglin Air Force Base and Tyndall Air Force Base, both located in Florida, and Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina.

Air Force officials said they’re assessing several criteria: mission, capacity, environmental requirements and cost factors.

The addition would come as Vandenberg works to position itself as a “center of excellence” for unmanned aerial vehicles, Moss said.

He made his comments days after civilian photographers captured pictures of what experts identified as the still-classified RQ-170 Sentinel spy drone flying over the base.

Meanwhile, Air Education & Training Command will evaluate Vandenberg’s suitability as the future home of the Battlefield Airmen School in an effort to consolidate several programs for elite military members now spread across eight states.

Vandenberg already hosts several educational programs through the 381st Training Squadron’s classes, which are informally known as “Space & Missile University” and prep officers and enlisted members for their careers working with rockets, satellites and ICBMs.

If chosen, the program would add another 1,500 people to Vandenberg’s permanent mission, Moss said.

Decisions for the potential new missions could be made within weeks for the Reaper program, while the new training school home likely won’t be chosen until fall, Moss said.

Noozhawk.com is a Santa Barbara-based news website. North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at jscully@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @NoozhawkNews.

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