Army to add live-fire course on Hawaii island
The Honolulu Star-Advertiser
The Army is moving ahead with a $29 million Infantry Platoon Battle Course on 110 acres at Pohakuloa Training Area on Hawaii island — a step that it says doesn't remove the need for the contested Makua Military Reservation on Oahu.
A record of decision — the last step in an environmental impact statement of alternatives — calls for construction of the training facility at the "Western Range" at PTA for live-fire training with small arms, machine guns, mortars and rockets.
"The Army needs to reduce a current shortfall in collective (group) live-fire standard training capabilities for units stationed in Hawaii," Maj. Gen. Roger Mathews, deputy commander of U.S. Army Pacific, said in the June decision.
The Army revealed the decision this week.
"This project will both create jobs in Hawaii and provide our troops with an apt training ground to ensure the safety of our state and our nation," said U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz. "Hawaii has long been a strategic and imperative training ground for the U.S. Army. I'm happy to announce that our local economy and defense preparedness will both be improved with the construction of this battle course."
The new range was funded in 2013, and construction is anticipated in fiscal 2014, which starts in October.
A "rapidly changing austere fiscal environment" caused the Army to downsize the project and eliminate from consideration an "urban terrain" assault course and live-fire "shoothouse" facility.
The 132,000-acre PTA, with a 51,000-acre artillery impact area, is used by all branches of the U.S. military, with the Marines being the second-largest user behind the Army.
The pie-wedge-shaped platoon course will be 3,281 feet wide at the entry point, 4,921 feet wide at its end point and 13,123 feet long.
An Infantry Platoon Battle Course supports a variety of light infantry training events, both day and night, including reconnaissance and security, movement to contact, attack, raid, ambush and defend, the Army said. Soldiers maneuver from objective to objective through trenches and bunkers while engaging stationary and moving targets.
A range control tower, operations/storage building, classroom, bleachers and covered mess and ammunition breakdown buildings also would be constructed.
Schofield Barracks soldiers currently use an "antiquated" platoon battle course range at PTA that the Army said doesn't comply with requirements — including not having the necessary distance to fire and maneuver — and has "obsolete targetry and instrumentation."
The range can't be expanded because its extension would fall into an unexploded-ordnance area, the service said.
"Limited entry is permitted into that area due to extremely hazardous conditions," the EIS said.
The Army said range requirements reflect a shortfall of an average of 1.29 Infantry Platoon Battle Course ranges in Hawaii — a shortage that would be made up with the construction of the new range.
The 2nd and 3rd brigades at Schofield would have a combined 158 platoon-level live-fire events a year at the new range.
But the EIS stated the PTA range will not provide all the training opportunities that Schofield soldiers need. It would be unlikely that a unit as small as a company would travel by itself to PTA to use the range.
"Rather, it would have to travel with its larger parent unit. This 200-mile trip would be very expensive," the Army said.
PTA as a whole supports up to battalion (about 600 soldiers) and brigade (about 3,500 soldiers) training. The Army said a platoon battle course needs to be located at PTA to improve its capacity as a "major training area."
The platoon range at PTA also would not support training by companies of about 150 soldiers with their three to four platoons, according to the EIS.
"These soldiers need an area (on Oahu) to conduct company-level live-fire training that does not require expensive, time-consuming travel with a larger unit," the report stated.
Makua MILITARY Reservation, on the Leeward Coast, hasn't been used for company-level live fire since 2004 due to an ongoing environmental lawsuit.
When the PTA platoon course is built, "some" of the Army's live-fire training needs will be met, the EIS said. The report also stated that "the Army could assume for the purposes of this analysis that live-fire training might someday resume at (Makua). In that event, the required use of (Makua) could be reduced, although not eliminated, when units conduct required training at the PTA (platoon battle course)."
Unexploded ordnance is expected to be found during the range's construction, and the Army said it would have to conduct surveys for the hazards.
Mathews, in the record of decision, said there is no evidence of depleted uranium from a 1960s weapon system at the selected site.
The Army did say that "irreversible damage and loss to archaeological sites" is anticipated. The lava tube system on the site is "vast," and some tubes would need to be collapsed for heavy equipment use — meaning the potential loss of cultural and environmental history they might contain.
The Army said a preconstruction cultural resources survey will be conducted, and Army archaeologists will provide the State Historic Preservation Office and other consulting parties with a list of historic properties to be avoided and protected.