Navy moving quickly to expand bombing ranges in Nevada as environmentalists object

Navy moving quickly to expand bombing ranges in Nevada as environmentalists object

An F/A-18C Hornet attached to the Naval Aviation Warfighting Development Center, onboard Naval Air Station Fallon, Nev., taxis on the runway in September. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Larry S. Carlson)

WASHINGTON — The Navy is moving forward to more than double the size of its bombing test range in Nevada, a move environmentalists say jeopardizes critical natural habitats, nesting enclaves and natural waterways.

The proposed expansion would add 600,000 acres in central Nevada to bombing range capabilities at the Fallon Range Training Complex, where all naval air strike units train before deployment. The site is now 232,000 acres of Navy-managed land, the Navy said on its website for Fallon.

“People forget that we also have airplanes,” one Navy spokesperson said on background. “Didn’t they see ‘Top Gun’?”

As initially proposed, the expansion would add roughly 967 square miles of federal land and 100 square miles of private land to the training range. Fallon is about 350 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

The true size of the Fallon range, along with other test sites in Nevada, fluctuates since actual figures are deemed classified and thus not provided to the public. Therefore, estimates of acres and square miles vary.

“The military is plunging headlong into yet another seizure of Nevada’s beloved public lands. This proposal would mean a loss of public access to an enormous swath of the Great Basin desert, and severe impacts to the wildlife like bighorn sheep and golden eagles which live there,” Patrick Donnelly, the Nevada director for the Center for Biological Diversity, told TMN.

Donnelly said coupled with the Air Force’s proposed expansion of the Nevada Test and Training Range “the combined seizures of public land would total almost 2 million acres — an area larger than the state of Delaware.”

“The Center for Biological Diversity stands with Nevada’s conservation and sportsmen communities and the residents of central Nevada who will be disproportionately affected by this land grab,” he told TMN. “This proposal is an attack on our way of life as Nevadans.”

If the expansion goes through, it would eliminate public access to federal land in five counties, including areas in Fairview Peak and the Stillwater National Wildlife Refuge. The Navy is offering a 60-day public comment period, instead of the normal 90 days.

“Current aircraft and weapons technologies require a far greater amount of training space than previous technologies required,” the Navy says on the Fallon webpage. “While older aircraft flew at lower altitudes and required a smaller impact area for ordnance, modern aircraft fly at higher altitudes and approach targets from 10 to 12 miles away.”

The Navy said boundaries have not changed to accommodate for the capabilities of modern weapons. “Modern weapons can reach targets at greater distances than ever before, but current range boundaries limit this type of training. Expanding the range boundaries would allow military personnel to train in a realistic, and in some instances 360-degree, combat scenario,” the Navy said.

The Navy proposal comes on the heels of a similar effort by the Air Force to add 302,000 acres to its Nevada Test and Training Range, which now is more than 2.9 million acres.

According to Global Security defense study group, the Fallon Range Training Complex (FRTC) is about 84,000 acres with four separate training ranges and an integrated air defense system consisting of 37 real or simulated radars.

“The FRTC is the focal point for all Navy, and some Marine, graduate level aviation strike warfare training,” Global Security said. “This training…develops realistic combat training scenarios for military aircrew flying high performance jet aircraft and helicopters, employing state of the art military equipment and tactics. The FRTC offers a unique configuration of land, airspace, targets, and instrumentation which allows for levels of combat training not available elsewhere.”

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