Carson City – How much land does the United States Navy need for its Fallon Range Training Complex (FRTC) modernization? That was the question Thursday night December 13 during the Navy’s Draft Environmental Impact Study (EIS) public meeting in Reno held at the West 2nd St. Events Center. The gathering was the final public meeting in a series of seven meant to inform and communicate with the public about the proposed modernization or expansion of the training facility and the results of the draft EIS.
Hear the remarks of Captain David Halloran, Commanding Officer of the Naval Air Station Fallon.
The National Environmental Policy Act mandates the creation of an EIS for the navy to expand the boundaries of its air station in Fallon. In creating the EIS, the navy worked with local state and federal agencies and now has several alternate plans that are delineated in the EIS. The the public comment period is open from Nov. 16, 2018, to Jan. 15, 2019.
The Navy’s proposal to modernize the FRTC includes renewal of the current public land withdraw which includes 202,864 acres scheduled to expire November 2021. The proposal also includes:
- a request from Congress to withdraw an additional 618,727 acres of federal land for the FRTC to add area to 3 of the station’s 4 bombing ranges.
- acquisition of an additional 65,152 acres of private or state land.
- construction of additional target areas and infrastructure to support modernized training, and expansion and reconfiguration of existing special airspace as well as establishment of new air space to accommodate the expanded bombing ranges.
Captain David Halloran, Commanding Officer, of the Naval Air Station Fallon told those in attendance at the December 13 meeting in Reno that “modernization” of the FRTC is critical in order to provide both ground and air combat personnel realistic combat like training scenarios. Halloran said that technology in air combat has advanced tremendously in the last 30 years and lessons learned in the Desert Storm campaign have made it essential to modernize and expand the existing range in order to protect the nation’s national security as well as the safety of navy personnel.
Navy Seal Training
In addition to various combat pilot and air wing training, all navy Seals must train at Fallon for 90 days before being deployed. According to Captain Halloran the current range is too small to provide adequate ground combat training for Seals and the advanced firearms they use.
“They are working in their, for one example, their Humvees,” Halloran said. “Their Humvees have a turret. That turret is moveable. It is manually moveable, so it doesn’t move real easy. It’s not like it’s powered, and they have to maneuver that around while the Humvee is running on not smooth terrain, but out in the desert, and our training coordinators out their with the navy Seals have simulated targets that pop up they have to neutralize with their machine guns, just like they would do in combat.
“The problem is, they can only fire in one direction. They can only fire to the west, so they will run the exercise in two directions. They go south to north, where they can fire to the left. They will then go north to south where they can fire to the right. They do not have an ability to set up a simulation where they have threats popping up on both sides,” Halloran said.
According to Captain Halloran training the commandos to look for threats from only one direction does not adequately prepare the Seals for actual combat situations where threats come from anywhere, and in order to do that, trainees need to be able to safely fire in all directions without bullets leaving the range, and so the navy is asking that the range be expanded.
“As you can expect, most navy Seals are Type A personalities, which means, they are going to try to win at all costs, so if you give them an exercise or a game, they are going to try to win it, so what are they going to do when they are travelling south to north and all the targets are on the left, that’s where they’re going to be looking, so their training isn’t in all directions. Their training will mostly be focused on the left, even though we tell them to work on the right side, so they do get good training, but it’s about 20 percent of the capability if we could have them run through an area in multiple directions at all times and have threats come from all over the place. That’s what they’re looking to modernize, so they can fire in all directions and still keep their weapons on the range. We cannot do that now and ensure the weapons stay on the range, and that’s a safety factor … we will not take that risk with safety and ensure we are firing in a direction that keeps it on the range.”
The Naval Aviation Warfighting Development Center (NAWDC) is based at NAS Fallon and is famously known as the navy’s “Top-Gun” school where fighter pilots learn to refine air combat techniques.
According to Captain Halloran, during Desert Storm naval aircraft flew too low and too slow in order to drop their bombs accurately. This made the planes vulnerable to defensive actions by inferior forces.
“The reason that we’re looking to modernize our ranges is basically, technology has significantly advanced over the last 30 years. Our ranges are still the same ranges that we used back essentially in the Vietnam era. We saw during Desert Storm that the tactics that we were using, flying low, dropping the bomb close to the target, put all of our aircraft in harm’s way, and we lost a far more aircraft against an inferior opponent than they should have, so we realized that it was time to develop new tactics,” Halloran said.
The current Fallon air range was designed to accommodate aircraft that approached enemies at 10,000 feet and had to drop their ordinance close to the target, but contemporary bombs now enable aircraft to approach targets at 30,000 feet and deploy “smart weapons” from 10 to 12 miles away. The new ordinance is designed to explode within one to three meters of the target, but Captain Halloran explained that sometimes bombs do not land where intended.
“These bombs are extremely accurate. They hit within one to three meters of the target every time, unless they have a failure, and then I want to emphasize and anchor down on that a little bit,” Halloran said. “These things have flight controls on them. They have flight control computers, and they have batteries. They are not going to be failsafe. Every now and then one of them will fail. Our failure rate is very very small. Our failure rate is 1 in 8000 will have a battery failure, so that’s a fantastic record, but when that bomb fails, and it has let’s say a battery failure, it’s now free-falling, just like a dumb bomb did.
“Well if I drop a bomb at 12 miles, and it free-falls with enough energy with a control system to work itself and fly itself to the target then I have to give it more energy than just 12 miles of ballistic fall because it is going to bleed off its energy as its flight controls are being manipulated.”
In addition to giving guided bombs the energy and distance needed to hit their target, combat pilots need to avoid active threats. According to Captain Halloran, the best way to avoid rifle fire, advanced anti-aircraft artillery, and surface to air missiles is to fly high and fast.
“I’m flying high. I’m flying fast to give the weapon as much energy as I possibly can so I can release it further away, and the real reason I want to be further away is because the target in the area is probably where the threats are, i.e. the surface to air missiles, so if I am higher and further away from the surface to air missile, it has to climb higher travel further before it gets to me, which gives me the chance to initiate a defense against it or defeat it on the fact that it can’t actually reach me,” Halloran said.
The problem, said Halloran, was that the training facility needs more land and air space to accommodate contemporary weapons systems and tactics to better ensure American pilot safety and victory in battle.
“The problem is, our current ranges are small, so in order for me to safely drop a laser-guided bomb or a joint-direct attack munition (JDAM), I have to drop it low, slow and on a specific heading, mostly the JDAMs,” Halloran said. “I know the first time I drop a JDAM, it’s going to be a learning experience.”
Captain Halloran described a team of aircraft electronic technicians who work to ensure the aircraft communicates with the bomb and that the pilot is fully integrated with navigation and targeting and releases the munition at the proper time and video records of the strike for validation purposes. For Halloran and trainees, the small size of the existing air station can only simulate a single type of JDAM deployment.
“The problem is, the next time I do it, I’m doing the same exact thing on the same heading, the same altitude and the same air speed because that’s the way we have to drop that JDAM in order for it to stay on the range in case it has an actual failure. It doesn’t happen very often, but when it does, we want to make sure that we’re being safe and keeping it on the range.”
Long story short, the navy wants to deploy smart weapons in training just like they do in actual combat.
“So that’s what we went for with our ask is to make sure that we can actually drop the bombs properly, but most importantly, we can drop our joint directed attack munitions and our laser-guided bombs in the way we do in combat, instead of how we currently do it … so how we’ve been dropping in combat is significantly different different than how we drop at NAS Fallon because we don’t have the ability to train.”
Captain Halloran described how China and other nations are improving their military capabilities and that the the gap between US war technology and the the rest of the world is closing, and part of the advantage emerging nations have is in the size of their training facilities.
“When I tell you, that what we’re looking to do here is a necessity, I want to emphasize the fact that we don’t want as the navy to do this. We don’t want more land to manage. That is the last thing the navy wants,” Halloran said. “My job as a naval aviator, as the CO of NAS Fallon is to make sure that when our men and women go into combat, navy Seals and navy aviators have the best possible opportunity to train so that we can be successful, if we ever come to a time when we are going after a peer adversary because if we start trading punches right now with some of our adversaries, it’s not going to go as well as what we would like. Simply because they’re better than what we every thought they were.”
We recorded 18 separate public comments and offer them below. Those who identified themselves as a representative of an organization are noted, but otherwise, all offered public comment as citizens. Comments are presented in order of appearance during the meeting. Several asked to extend the Draft EIS comment period and all but one spoke against the base expansion.
Dell Fortner – represented Bell Mountain Exploration Corporation, a mining company.
Chip Caroon –
Karen Boger –
David Vonseggern –
Kurt Kuznicki –
Larry Dwyer –
Pam Dupre –
Deborah Stevenson –
Dan Albey –
Lou Bubala –
Carol Lynn Gaudio –
Kris Lemaire –
August Lemaire –
Patrick Donnelly – Nevada state director for the Center for Biological Diversity.
Shaaron Netherton – Executive Director of the Friends of Nevada Wilderness.
Norm Harry – Environmental Director for the Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California.
Kirk Peterson –
Rob Bastein –