In a rare show of solidarity, all three Delmarva governors have signed on to support bringing a Navy drone surveillance program to Wallops Flight Facility.
Their letters provide a political boost to a campaign led by area business and aerospace industry leaders to persuade the Navy’s top brass to select Wallops as the program’s East Coast home base.
The head of the trade group pushing for the drones cheered the governors’ lobbying efforts.
“The Wallops Island Regional Alliance is deeply honored to have been involved in these steps to attain 3 very important Letters of Support,” Peter Bale, the group’s chairman, said in a statement.
The MQ-4C Triton drone program is expected to bring 400 personnel along with their families to where it’s based.
Wallops is competing with two other possible locations, both in Florida: Naval Station Mayport in Jacksonville and Naval Air Station Key West.
Construction could begin on the base, wherever it’s located, as early as this fall. It would host launch and recovery operations as well as a maintenance facility. All told, the base would be home to four unmanned aircraft with room for up to four more undergoing maintenance.
Operations are expected to kick off in 2020, Navy officials say.
The new drones are slated to conduct reconnaissance missions over ocean and coastal regions. It was called “the first big step in unmanned aviation” by its manufacturer, Northrop Grumman, which has an office near the Wallops facility.
An environmental assessment of the three sites, a major step in determining the final location, is expected to be completed soon.
The Mid-Atlantic governors touted various reasons for basing Triton at Wallops in the northeast corner of Accomack County near Chincoteague.
The facility would be in close proximity to Naval Air Station Patuxent River, where Triton aircraft were first developed and tested, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said in his May 18 letter. It would also be able to take advantage of Naval facilities in the Hampton Roads vicinity, he said.
“I believe that basing Triton in close proximity to these other Navy facilities, headquarters and operating forces will create synergies and facilitate the faster integration of Triton into the Navy’s battle network,” Hogan said.
Wallops already has experience with similar unmanned aerial vehicles, including NASA’s RQ-4 Global Hawk, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe noted. The region’s aircraft controllers are accustomed to handling such vehicles and their unique needs.
Locating at Wallops will enable the Navy to tap into Delaware’s educational resources, including the University of Delaware’s mechanical engineering program and Delaware State University’s aviation program, Gov. Jack Markell said.
The region is also “less adversely impacted by hurricanes” and other severe weather events, he added.
Local officials have been practically unanimous in their support as well, with both Accomack and Worcester counties delivering similar endorsements.
Contact reporter Jeremy Cox at 410-845-4630 or on Twitter @Jeremy_Cox.