The Navy is considering two of its bases in Florida — Naval Station Mayport in Jacksonville and Naval Air Station Key West — and NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on Virginia’s Eastern Shore as candidates to become the East Coast home base for the next generation of surveillance unmanned aerial systems (UASs).
The base would host launch and recovery operations for the still-under-development MQ-4C Triton as well as a maintenance facility, reported Delmarva Now. The base would be home to four unmanned aircraft with room for up to four more undergoing maintenance, said Ted Brown, environmental public officer for Fleet Forces Command in Norfolk.
Operations would begin in 2020, Brown said. An environmental assessment of the three sites is expected to be completed in late June.
“At this point, we don’t have a preferred alternative,” Brown said. “We are still doing the analysis.”
The new UASs are intended to accomplish several tasks, including reconnaissance missions over ocean and coastal regions.
The mission would bring 400 full-time jobs move to Virginia’s Eastern Shore, significantly boosting the local economy, said Peter Bale, president of the Wallops Island Regional Alliance. The decision could add between 1,500 and 2,000 residents to the area, including family members.
“I like to refer to it as a Richter scale event,” Bale said. “It would be phenomenal,” he said.
“Wallops is an ideal place to base the Navy’s new Triton aircraft, and I look forward to discussing that option with the Pentagon,” said Virginia Rep. Randy Forbes (R), chairman of the House Armed Services’ Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee.