Thursday, March 17, 2005 | 9:06 a.m.
The Indian Springs Auxiliary Field will serve as the center for the coordination and tactics development for the military's unmanned aerial vehicles, military officials announced Wednesday.
Already the home to the Air Force's MQ-1 Predator, the facility 45 miles northwest of Las Vegas is on the fast track to become the nation's "center of excellence" for the growing cadre of remotely piloted military aircraft, said Maj. Gen. Stephen Goldfein, commander of Nellis Air Force Base's Air Warfare Center.
"We are aggressively pursuing the center for excellence," Goldfein said during a press conference Wednesday. "This is a clear, strong statement that the Air Force wants this center and Indian Springs is the perfect place for it."
There is no firm timetable for the center to be up and running, but the work of coordinating and determining how best to use the military's drones, which the military refers to as unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, is already underway at the "UAV battle lab" in Indian Springs.
The presence of the lab and the fact that Indian Springs houses the Air Force's three Predator squadrons are among the reasons Indian Springs is such an attractive site, Goldfein said.
"Indian Springs also sits right next to the Nevada Test and Training Range, which is a national treasure," Goldfein said.
The nearly 3 million-acre range provides the space needed for the testing and tactics development for military drones.
There are about 1,000 of the drones in use today ranging from the larger Predators that can fire Hellfire missiles to smaller, short-range scout and surveillance craft, according to the military.
"We want to optimize the use of the different systems that have different controls and communication, and offer different products," Goldfein said. "For example a commander may ask for a Predator because he needs 12 hours of full motion video of a site, but there may be another system that can do that job just as well."
Gen. John Jumper, the Air Force chief of staff, visited Nellis last week and pointed to Indian Springs as the perfect site for the planned UAV center.
The success of the Predator program has already caused an explosion of activity at the Indian Springs Airfield, officials said. Every day Predators are remotely flown from Indian Springs and Nellis in the skies over Iraq and Afghanistan. Construction has already begun on new hangars and infrastructure at Indian Springs, and is scheduled to accelerate by the end of the year and into 2006.
Currently there are about 2,500 people stationed at Indian Springs, and about 500 airmen are involved in the day-to-day operation of the Predator.
Goldfein said that he didn't anticipate any immediate additional costs to operating a UAV center at Indian Springs, but said that there will likely be additional manpower and resources needed as the center expands from the core operations already at the facility.