By Mark Weiner
WASHINGTON — The $607 billion defense policy bill for 2014 approved by Congress includes $4.7 million to build a new launch and recovery facility at Fort Drum for MQ-9 Reaper drones.
The money was included in the National Defense Authorization Act for 2014 approved by the Senate in a 84-15 vote late Thursday and sent to President Barack Obama for his signature, according to the office of U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y. The House approved the measure earlier this month.
Gillibrand, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, advocated for the Fort Drum expansion, initially requested by the Pentagon and included in the president’s budget.
The MQ-9 Reaper drones are operated remotely by the New York Air National Guard’s 174th Attack Wing at Hancock Field in Mattydale. The unit conducts training missions with the unmanned drones that take off and land in restricted air space at Fort Drum’s Wheeler-Sack Army Airfield in Jefferson County.
The federal money will pay for construction of a two-bay hangar for the drones at Fort Drum, and to widen a taxiway to the airfield.
Gillibrand and U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., have supported efforts to make Central and Northern New York a leader in the development of technology for remotely-piloted drone aircraft.
More than 40 public, private and academic organizations in New York and Massachusetts have formed the NUAIR alliance to compete for the Federal Aviation Administration’s designation as a national test site for integrating drones into the national air space by 2015. The FAA could designate six test sites by the end of the year.