U.S. Sen. Tom Udall
U.S. SENATE News:
WASHINGTON — Thursday, during a hearing of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense on the FY2019 budget for the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Sen. Tom Udall urged Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson to support funding and resources for projects critical to the operations and competitiveness of Holloman, Cannon, and Kirtland Air Force bases.
Udall pressed Wilson and Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force General David Goldfein to prioritize the new Space Rapid Capabilities Office (RCO) at Kirtland and the rapid launch capabilities at Spaceport America in New Mexico. Udall also sought support for efforts to recognize and expand opportunities for the Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) community in New Mexico and throughout the nation.
Udall called on Wilson to pursue increased cooperation with the commercial space sector to improve rapid launch capabilities and ensure the new Space Rapid Capabilities Office (RCO) at Kirtland has the resources and infrastructure it needs to reach its full potential.
“In the past, the New Mexico delegation fought to ensure that the Air Force does not cut the Operationally Responsive Space (ORS) initiative at Kirtland Air Force Base…. There is now potential for Space-RCO in Albuquerque to lead the nation in space innovation,” Udall said during the hearing.”Secretary Wilson, how do you aim to increase cooperation with the commercial space sector to improve our rapid launch capabilities?”
Wilson noted that the Air Force is increasing the workforce by adding 50 new positions and a new director at the Space RCO at Kirtland, which will house the most important space acquisitions programs in the country. She also discussed the $100 million Special Innovation Fund managed by the Space and Missile Systems Center to contract with private sector space companies developing innovative national security capabilities.
Udall also recommended to Sec. Wilson that the Air Force utilize Spaceport America in New Mexico, saying “Spaceport America in New Mexico is one location positioned to support national security requirements for rapid launch capabilities.”
Udall stressed that the Air Force should pursue a diverse launch capability which includes inland spaceports, versus the Air Force’s current reliance on two coastal sites which can be restrained by weather or other issues. Sec. Wilson responded that the Air Force is working to add diversity to their launch capability.
Finally, Udall asked Wilson and Goldfein what the Air Force is doing to improve quality of life for Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) pilots. “Quality of life for remotely piloted aircraft pilots has been a topic that has come up repeatedly during my travels to Cannon and Holloman Air Force Bases,” Udall said. “In addition, recognition for the important work they do to protect the homeland is greatly needed to improve their morale.”
Goldfein said the Air Force is working to improve morale, training, and dwell times for RPA pilots, ensuring that these airmen are able to deploy, train, and spend time with their families. In response, Udall said he is pleased to be able report back to Holloman and Cannon Air Forces bases that their concerns are being heeded.