Defense bill would boost money for Alaska air war training

Posted: Friday, August 02, 2002

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- Two air war training areas northeast and southwest of Eielson Air Force Base could get a major boost under a Defense Department spending bill.

The bill contains about $39 million for projects that would improve various aspects of the training system, according to U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska.

The Senate approved the bill Thursday. It now goes to a conference committee to reconcile differences with the House version.

The money for the areas near Eielson south of Fairbanks is part of a long-range plan to upgrade air war training in Alaska, said Master Sgt. Brenda Campbell, spokeswoman for the Alaska Command.

Upgrades would ''get us to a point where a lot of people in the Department of Defense will want to come to Alaska because we will be able to provide them with top-notch training,'' she said.

The Air Force manages four ''Cope Thunder'' exercises each year, Campbell said. The exercises bring in military aircraft from around the world.

Several of the projects would provide pilots and range managers with more real-time data. Other work would improve reconstruction and scoring of a pilot's performance.

The current system uses ground stations that track and communicate with aircraft flying overhead. The Senate bill has $8 million to run electrical lines and fiber optics underground to the stations. The power lines would eliminate the need for existing onsite generators. The fiber optic lines would replace microwave radio communications.

Before aircraft can communicate with the ground stations, they need an electronic ''pod.''

''It has certain data systems in it that send data to ground systems, so that you simulate the use of weapons and the sites on the ground can talk with the aircraft and track where they're at,'' Campbell said.

The bill would spend $5 million to add pods to more aircraft.

While Air Force pilots are flying through a training range, they are hit with simulated ''threats,'' or radar signals, from mock enemies. The Senate bill contains $11 million to upgrade ''threat emitters.''

Once pilots are done with a training mission, they and their commanders review their performance using data picked up by the electronic sensors and other methods. An additional $6.7 million in the bill would improve that system.

Campbell said the current analysis of strafing accuracy relies on a technician who listens to a recording of bullets hitting and decides which hit the target. An upgrade would make analysis easier, she said.

Other improvements would allow reviewers to more easily determine whether a pilot's laser, which simulates a weapon, has actually touched the target, she said.

The bill also contains $8 million for an ''enhanced tactical data display link.'' That link would allow commanders to track all aircraft in an area, using information relayed through the ground stations, Campbell said.

The bill also contains several million dollars for Army training ranges in Alaska, including $1.5 million to study whether to put a bridge over the Tanana River.

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