MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The Wisconsin National Guard plans to build a new $8 million base for unmanned surveillance drones at Volk Field.
The 10,300-square-foot facility would replace two office buildings that have been a temporary base to four unarmed Shadow drones. Congress has approved about $7.9 million for planning and construction; the state will have to chip in about $415,000, according to estimates. The state Building Commission voted unanimously to release $177,460 to develop preliminary designs.
About 45 National Guard units across the country have received Shadow drones, said Capt. Joy Staab, a Wisconsin National Guard spokeswoman. The machines are typically used for scouting and locating potential targets.
The Wiconsin National Guard's 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team's intelligence company received four drones earlier this year and has been hauling them to Fort McCoy for training missions. The fort's air space is the only area authorized for such flights.
Twenty-two soldiers are assigned to the drones. Lt. Col. Jackie Guthrie, another National Guard spokeswoman, said the drones will be used in Wisconsin for training, not active surveillance missions.
"We train on all of our equipment so when we take them to the battlefield we're proficient," Guthrie said. "Are we going to go out and spy on people? No."
The machines are now housed in a contracting office and a maintenance shop at Volk Field. Guard officials say the buildings are too small and large equipment must be stored outside in the elements, resulting in more frequent repairs.
They also say the buildings don't offer runway space and don't meet any Anti-Terrorism Force Protection standards, building codes enacted after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks for Department of Defense structures to reduce potential damage during an enemy attack.
The new base will include a brick veneer, space for drone parking, offices, a workout facility and locker rooms, similar to a municipal fire station.
"You can't properly train without the proper equipment and proper facilities," Staab said. "It's like you trying to do your job without a computer."
According to the Wisconsin National Guard's timeline, preliminary designs should be finished by fall. Bids will open about a year later. The base should be completed by the end of 2012.