Military eyes expansion of training areas

Posted: Sunday, January 23, 2011

FAIRBANKS — The U.S. military has about 67,000 square miles of airspace to train in Alaska. Fairbanks pilot Ken Kokjer isn’t sure it needs any more.

“The military needs areas to train, but they’ve got a huge amount of area now,” Kokjer said. “The entire Interior is a military operation already.”

Kokjer was one of about 50 people to attend the first of two Thursday meetings at the Fairbanks Princess Riverside Lodge to talk about proposals military officials said are necessary to “modernize and enhance” military training areas in Alaska.

The military is proposing to expand some military training areas, increase restricted airspace, create new airspace corridors and develop new ranges and facilities to help “meet increasingly urgent national security needs.”

The changes are needed to better equip U.S. troops to fight the ongoing global war on terror by addressing advances in technology and lessons learned from combat in Afghanistan and Iraq in the past 10 years, said Col. Greg Bell, Alaskan Command chief for joint education and readiness.

“The evidence and need is there,” Bell said of the effort to expand military training areas in Alaska.

But Kokjer and others at Thursday’s meeting weren’t so sure. The 69-year-old Kokjer said he has mixed feelings about the military’s proposals.

“It’s sensible that things have changed, but do they need more training area or can they make do with what they have?” he asked. “Is this the Cadillac version of what they would love to have?”

The military’s proposals include:

• Creating airspace corridors for unmanned aerial vehicles and remotely piloted aircraft in the Tanana Flats training areas south of Fairbanks.

• Expanding and adding restricted airspace to the Donnelly Training Area south of Delta Junction to establish a “realistic air and ground training environment that would accommodate live ordnance delivery of modern weapons.”

• Expanding a large military operations area north and south of the Denali Highway between Paxson and Cantwell while raising the flight boundaries from 5,000 feet above sea level to 18,000 feet in some areas and lowering it from 5,000 to 500 feet in other areas.

• Later night training hours in all military training areas.

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