First, the Air Force has a plan to adjust Military Operating Areas (MOAs) in New Mexico. Second, in 2014, the Air Force moved two squadrons of F-16s – over 50 aircraft – to Holloman AFB, and the Air Force has subsequently announced an “interim” bed-down of two additional squadrons of F-16s at Holloman.
Regarding airspace, across the United States the services have been using “legacy” MOAs that, in many cases, date to the 1950s when the nation mobilized in the early stages of the Cold War. It is the Air Force intent to adjust the boundaries of these MOAs – in some cases, relinquish airspace that is no longer required, in other situations, increase the size of the MOAs to provide more room for modern aircraft and their increased capabilities.
In the southwest part of our state, several MOAs have been used for years by aircraft from multiple locations. And there were required National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) scoping meetings and hearings in support of these missions. The current Regional Airspace Optimization Plan includes two options: one expands an MOA east of Holloman AFB; the second expands MOAs west of White Sands Missile Range (WSMR). As most are aware, WSMR is a key Department of Defense Test and Training Range, with exclusive-use airspace for priority missions. However, the Air Force, with precise scheduling and coordination with WSMR, can use that airspace to some extent.
Turning to the F-16s at Holloman, their mission is to provide initial qualification and instructor upgrade training for fighter pilots. As has been reported nationally for several months, the Air Force is experiencing a serious shortage of fighter pilots – the most recent two squadrons at Holloman were converted from operational units to training units as a partial means of addressing this acute shortage.
Holloman F-16s will use all the MOAs which are available and strictly follow FAA and Air Force guidelines on the use of flares and chaff, as well as infrequent supersonic flight. The expanded MOAs and coordinated use of WSMR airspace will allow the Air Force to minimize any potential disruption or impact across our state. We are confident the Air Force can satisfactorily respond to community concerns which have been identified thus far. Further, we are satisfied that the Air Force is diligently complying with NEPA.
Regarding notification, the Air Force sent letters to several county commissions in New Mexico including Grant and Catron, county commissions in Arizona, senior elected officials and other agencies including BLM, USFS, etc. Also, several notices were placed in southwest N.M. newspapers. The Air Force notified interested parties and agencies to the best of its ability.
Support of our military installations and their missions has been a continuing high priority for our Congressional delegation as well as Gov. Susana Martinez. Both the delegation and the governor have placed recent emphasis on the location of F-16s at Holloman AFB.
Air Force representatives will be participating in county commission meetings in Silver City, Reserve and Socorro as a means of further responding to community concerns. These concerns and comments will be included as the Air Force continues to finalize their plan according to NEPA.
The process that has evolved thus far regarding airspace and F-16s will work out to the benefit of all concerned. We, America, have been in a 16-year war, and we truly must have airspace where America’s fighter pilots can train. Hopefully, New Mexicans can continue to participate in this process in an objective and non-emotional manner. Thus, New Mexico will continue to play a vital role in our country’s national security, as it has for decades.