Alaska’s top Army and Air Force officials have signed off on planned developments at a major training area within the state, featuring changes meant to reduce interactions with civilian pilots near Delta Junction.
A record of decision on the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex (PDF), released Tuesday by the Alaskan Command, lists a series of Army and Air Force choices made regarding the future of the complex, which incorporates 65,000 square miles of airspace, nearly 2,500 square miles of land and 42,000 square nautical miles in the Gulf of Alaska.
“The JPARC was originally developed to support older, and in some cases, now obsolete weapons and tactics,” officials with the command wrote in Tuesday’s statement. “Its current configuration cannot fully meet the training requirement for military forces and exercises conducted in Alaska. The JPARC requires a more contemporary and versatile design and improved infrastructure to meet the present and future needs of the military.”
One of the major changes in the record of decision involves the Air Force trimming an expansion of the Fox 3 Military Operating Area, by moving its southern boundary about 20 nautical miles north. While the move cuts slightly more than 1.1 million acres from the operating area, it also addresses concerns raised by locals about aviation in the area.
In an earlier environmental impact statement (PDF), Alaskan Command officials said an option which didn’t trim the Fox area’s southern boundary would pose a risk of collisions between military flights and civilian planes flying under visual flight rules in the area, which lies near the Richardson Highway.
“The potential for near misses or midair collisions between VFR aircraft and low-altitude, high-speed military aircraft would be moderate to significant,” officials wrote in the environmental impact statement.
"The proposed actions and mitigations were modified based on invaluable inputs submitted by the public during the course of this process," Lt. Col. Michael Cabral, with the Alaskan Command’s joint exercise division, said in the command’s Tuesday statement. "For example, changes to some of the selected airspace alternatives and the decision to include a Visual Flight Rules corridor along the Richardson Highway were all based on inputs from Alaska's state agencies, aviation interest groups, and the public."
Another decision listed in the record is an Army choice to field unmanned aerial vehicles in the Yukon Training Area, under airspace already restricted by the Federal Aviation Administration. An alternative would have created temporary authorization certificates for the Army to use airspace during UAV training.
The record bears the signatures of former U.S. Army Alaska commander Maj. Gen. Michael Garrett and the former head of the Alaskan Command, Air Force Lt. Gen. Stephen L. Hoog. Garrett recently moved to U.S. Central Command and was replaced by Maj. Gen. Michael Shields, with Lt. Gen. Russell J. Handy replacing Hoog as he moved to the Pentagon. A third signer, Gerald F. Pease Jr., is a deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force for environmental, safety and occupational health.
According to the command, while no changes will be immediately made to JPARC regions, service members will begin technical evaluations on how to implement the record of decision’s provisions.
More information on JPARC and its functions is available on the range complex’s website.
Contact Chris Klint