Friday | April 24, 2015
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Marines seek two aviation training ranges at PTA

The U.S. Marine Corps wants to construct and operate an urban close air support range and an aviation bull’s-eye range at Pohakuloa Training Area.

These ranges are needed to provide comprehensive and realistic aviation training for jet and helicopter Hawaii-based Marine aviators who must be prepared to take on hostile targets in an urban environment, according to a recent environmental assessment.

No urban close air support range exists in Hawaii so aviators are not able to meet new training requirements here. Instead, some are sent to the nearest facility, located at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma in Arizona.

“An entire attack squadron will never be fully trained in urban close air support operations without a Hawaiian Islands range,” the document stated. “The cost associated with sending island-based Marines to Arizona for training exercises is extremely expensive (millons of dollars per training event), primarily due to the moving of aircraft.”

Located in the saddle between Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea, PTA is the military’s largest live-fire range and training installation in Hawaii and supports full-scale combined arms live-fire and field training exercises from squad to battalion level. It is the only location in the state that supports observable rotary and fixed-wing close air support training on land, said Tiffany Patrick, community plans and liaison officer in operations and training for Marine Corps Base Hawaii.

The Army will provide the necessary space for the proposed project at PTA and will still own the land. The Marine Corps relies on PTA to fulfill a large portion of training requirements.

“The United States Marine Corps continuously strives to provide realistic training opportunities that simulate current and future battle environments to prepare units for combat duty,” Patrick said. “Training requirements, both present and future, are driven by events taking place on the battlefields around the world. Recent conflicts have seen an increase in strategic battles in urban environments. Increased urbanization and the capabilities to fight under the concealment of city blocks, offers a great advantage to the enemy.”

Through the National Environmental Policy Act, the Marines Corps looked at all ranges in Hawaii, but narrowed its scope to PTA because it’s the only location that can support land-based air support training.

“There are no other ranges in the Hawaiian Islands with restricted airspace and a land impact area large enough to support this type of training,” Patrick said. “Hawaii has very limited land available and there is not enough land available for this type of training on Oahu.”

Also, according to the document, door gunnery as well as the use of tracers and rockets are prohibited on Oahu.

An EA for the proposed ranges was released Saturday, with a draft finding of no significant impact. This means the Marine Corps Base Hawaii believes there will be no direct, indirect or cumulative adverse impacts on the natural or human environment.

An urban close air support range will resemble an urban village, consisting of 185 shipping containers arranged over a 10-acre site. The containers will be stacked and assembled to create cube houses, row houses, warehouses and apartments. Eventually, a series of hardwired and remotely controlled, programmable targets, as well as full-sized steel replicas of armored vehicles may be installed.

The aviation bull’s-eye range on nearly three acres will consist of a series of concentric circles, made of painted automobile tires, visible from the air and ground. This range allows observers to judge the accuracy of aviation delivered ordnance, all of which is inert and the same as that already used at the Silent E and Mock Airfield.

“The scoring of helicopter-delivered fire is required for the training of both attack and utility helicopter pilots and crews,” the EA states.

Access to these ranges will be by service trails, created by compacting barren lava via a bulldozer, grader and roller.

There will also be three observation points, with stacked sand bags for protection, which the military will use to view the training exercises and score it. These points will be located atop a previously disturbed cinder cone near the ranges, on a naturally raised portion of pahoehoe northeast of the mock runway; and on aa lava just south of the ranges. No new trails will be constructed to access these observation points.

The Marine Corps will fund the construction, installation and future maintenance of these ranges.

The project’s estimated cost is approximately $2.3 million and construction is expected to take 30 to 45 days to complete. The earliest these ranges could potentially be used is October, Patrick said.

Once built, approximately 1,500 Marines, soldiers, sailors and Air Force members stand to benefit from the ranges, Patrick said.

“Marines anticipate using the ranges once every other month for seven days, with five UH-1 Huey and seven AH-1 Cobra, while Lava Viper exercises will occur two to three times per year and involve both fixed wing and rotary wing for 10 to 14 days,” she said. “A Lava Viper Exercise may include 12 F/A-18 hornets, AV-8B Harrier, F-35 Lightning II, and up to 18 UH-1 Huey and AH-1 Cobra. Occasionally transiting Marine Expeditionary Units, or MEUs, embarked on U.S. Navy amphibious shipping could also make use the urban close air support and scored bull’s-eye range capability. MEUs transit Hawaiian waters twice a year. Navy use is expected to be twice a year with FA-18 Hornets for a three day period. The U.S. Army use is expected to include six to eight OH-58/AH-64s per quarter for a 10 day period.”

The public has until March 10 to comment on this project and the analysis of the environmental impacts. Written comments should be sent to Commanding Officer, Attn: Tiffany Patrick, Box 63002, Kaneohe Bay, HI 96863-3002.

To view the EA online, visit mcbhawaii.marines.mil/UnitHome/FeaturedInformation/UCAS.aspx. Copies of the document are also available for review at the Kailua-Kona Public Library, Hilo Public Library and Thelma Parker Memorial Public and School Library. For more information, call Patrick at 257-8815 or email tiffany.patrick@usmc.mil.

Email Carolyn Lucas-Zenk at clucas-zenk@westhawaiitoday.com.

 

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