Grafenwöhr may get UAV facility
GRAFENWÖHR, Germany — The Army may build an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle facility, complete with its own 1,000-foot runway and hangars, in the middle of Grafenwöhr Training Area.
Col. Tim Touzinsky, the Joint Multinational Training Command chief of staff, said Friday that a feasibility study is under way to site the facility, for up to three UAV platoons, at Grafenwöhr.
"We have this new weapons system. We want to have hangers, a maintenance facility and a place where they can run the platoons — not just somewhere to fly out of," he said.
UAVs are remote-controlled aircraft equipped with cameras and sensors. They are used extensively in Iraq and Afghanistan to provide commanders with up-to-the-minute aerial images of the battlefield.
Shadow UAVs are assigned to the Grafenwöhr-based 172nd Infantry Brigade, which deployed to Iraq this month. UAV platoons are also part of the 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment at nearby Vilseck and the Vicenza, Italy/Bamberg, Germany-based 173rd Airborne Brigade, he said.
JMTC’s two training areas — at Grafenwöhr and Hohenfels — are the only places in Europe, other than Baumholder, where the Army flies UAVs, Touzinsky said.
Army airfields already exist at Vilseck and Hohenfels, but UAVs cannot use them because they must keep well away from off-post residential areas, he said.
"The Shadow only needs 800 feet [of runway to take off and land] but it has restrictions on how close it can fly to the edge of the training area because of the danger of a crash if a radio link is lost," he said.
Since the machines started operating at Grafenwöhr two years ago, they have launched from roads deep inside the training area, he said.
At Hohenfels, UAVs operate from a recently built strip inside "The Box" training area. Company A, 66th Military Intelligence Battalion, which is flying Hunter UAVs in Iraq, is likely to be assigned to Hohenfels when its deployment ends, Touzinsky said.
German, British and Dutch UAVs also use the training areas, he said.
The new UAV facility would be funded with money earmarked for Army transformation in Europe, possibly in 2010, Touzinsky said.
"We have had aviators describe their requirements. Now we are looking if the requirements fit the location," he said, adding that various agencies are examining how the UAV facility might impact other activities.
It is likely that the training areas will see the new Warrior UAV in the near future, Touzinsky said.
Chief Warrant Officer Stephen Shaw, the Grafenwöhr Army Air Field commander, said the Warrior requires a runway longer than those at the Vilseck and Grafenwöhr airfields, which are 3,500 and 3,800 feet, respectively.
Senior Airman Dominick Martin, a 28-year-old forecaster from Kittery, Maine, stationed with the 7th Weather Squadron based at Grafenwöhr, added that meteorological conditions at Grafenwöhr are likely to interfere with UAV operations.
Even moderate winds can ground UAVs. So the fact that the training area is in a bowl, with winds coming over the surrounding hills, could be a problem, along with persistent low clouds, he said.
Touzinsky said UAV operators have told him they are grounded about half the time at Grafenwöhr. But he said ground units can also be trained using UAV simulators.