Camp Ripley hosts grand opening of Unmanned Aircraft Sysytem Operations facility
CAMP RIPLEY — The idea of unmanned aircraft flying overhead might make some Minnesotans a little uneasy, but Capt. Eric Lewanski said there is nothing to worry about when it comes to Camp Ripley’s new Unmanned Aircraft Systems Operations Facility.
“They don’t leave Camp Ripley,” Lewanski said. “We have a lot of area to fly around.”
Camp Ripley opened its newest facility to the public Friday to show off its $3.9 million, 53,000-acre training facility.
“We are very eager to share our skills,” Lewanski told military staff, media and public in attendance.
Col. Scott St. Sauver, Camp Ripley post commander, told guests he found the opening of the facility at Camp Ripley fitting as it is located near the childhood home of American aviator Charles Lindbergh. Lindbergh gained international recognition in 1927 for his nonstop solo flight from New York to Paris.
“I see today as the natural progression of that historic flight,” St. Sauver said.
St. Sauver explained the military’s use of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) which give military intelligence the ability to obtain real time information without risking the lives of pilots.
“No longer do we have to send an F-16, an attack helicopter or ground troops into harm’s way to gather vital and necessary battlefield intelligence,” he said. “It saves taxpayer dollars, but more importantly saves the lives of our service men and women.”
Two tours in Iraq have made St. Sauver a believer in the necessity of the technology provided by the unmanned aircraft.
“We relied greatly on these tools,” he said.
The UAS training facility at Camp Ripley houses three larger aircraft called the Shadow — a 475-pound aircraft outfitted with surveillance cameras to obtain high quality streaming video at a range of nearly 80 miles from its ground control.
The facility also houses a 4.6 pound Raven aircraft with a four-foot wingspan that disassembles to fit into a backpack for portable use.
Lewanski said concerns about use of the aircraft to conduct civilian surveillance is not something people should be concerned about because the training conducted is limited to Camp Ripley’s campus.
“All we fly over are our own trees and buildings,” Lewanski said. According to documents provided by the Minnesota National Guard, Camp Ripley’s unmanned aircraft are prohibited from conducting civilian surveillance. as provided by the Posse Comitatus Act.
Service members who operate the unmanned aircraft are required to abide by the applicable law at all times.
Lewanski said the platoon training at the camp’s facility includes 30 members, 15 of whom are trained operators or the unmanned aircraft. Much of the platoon’s training is held in the facility’s simulation room. Lewanski estimated about half of the platoon’s time is spent in simulation.
“We can do a lot of training in this location,” he said.
Hands-on experience has taught Lewanski how valuable the information provided by the aircrafts can be to troops on the ground, and how vital proper training is for their operators.
“When I was deployed this aircraft was up more often than not,” he said.
The military’s use of the Shadow aircraft started in 2004. The use of the Raven followed in 2007.
Due to early morning weather concerns, service members were unable to demonstrate the launch and recovery of the Shadow aircraft.
“Being in Minnesota the weather can be challenging,” Lewanski said.
SARAH NELSON KATZENBERGER may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5879.