Senator questions Chief of Staff about future training needs

By David Irvin: CNJ staff writer

The Air Force Chief of Staff said Wednesday the future airplanes and weapon systems will need wide open spaces for good training.

The testimony came during a U.S. Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee meeting in Washington to review the Air Force’s budget requests for the 2006 fiscal year.

“The very speed of the airplanes and the stand-off distances of our weapons dictate ever increasing demands for airspace in an environment where that airspace is decreasing,” General John Jumper is quoted as saying in a press release from Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M.

Cannon Air Force base may have the kind of large, supersonic airspace needed for the future needs of the Air Force if the New Mexico Training Range Initiative is approved. The Federal Aviation Administration and the Air Force are expected to rule on the proposal by October, which could expand training air space in eastern New Mexico by about 700 square miles.

“(Domenici) wanted to use the hearing to get the Air Force on the record about the importance of air space availability and in the importance of realistic training,” said Chris Gallegos, press representative for the Senator. “As we look at BRAC, all those components are important in the considerations as the process moves forward.”

Cannon officials said in January said the proposed air space expansion would put Cannon on par with other bases such as Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas, Nev., and Mountain Home Air Force Base in Boise, Idaho, in air space capacity. It would also allow more supersonic training to take place from the base at lower altitudes.

In the Senate meeting, Domenici questioned Jumper about future training requirements, the most effective types of training, and the importance of access to airspace and training ranges for the Air Force.

“General Jumper and I agree that airspace for the Air Force will be at a premium in the future,” Domenici said in the press release.

Jumper underscored the importance of supersonic training space at the meeting, the press release showed.

“In the modern airplane, quite frankly, (when) you’re in the middle of a fight you don’t know when you’ve gone supersonic,” the general said. “So if you’re having to pay attention to your airspeed indicator all the time to make sure that you don’t create that sonic boom and disturb people on the ground …, then you’re paying attention to artificialities that you don’t want to have in your habit patterns.”

Some eastern New Mexico ranchers have raised concerns the expanded air space could increase anxiety among livestock and negatively affect their way of life.