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Chaos in Urban Canyons – Air Force Efforts to Carve a Civilian Population War Game Range across Southern Idaho

Defense Secretary James “Mad Dog” Mattis touched down at Mountain Home Air Force base in January. He gaggled with the press, extolled large military Ranges, and lamented human encroachment on military training sites. In early February, the Air Force mailed select “stakeholders” a Scoping proposal for imposing an F-15 Urban Warfare Range on the densest human population in Idaho, consisting of a million people.

The Range would span nine Idaho cities, from Meridian to Burley, shifting training now taking place on Bombing Ranges in Owyhee County to the civilian population. People would be subjected to thousands of annual overflights by Warplanes, day and night. Groups of 35 military ground personnel “JTAC” disguised as civilians would roam on the ground – driving city streets and lurking in parking lots. The planes would treat the ground forces as enemies, and zap them with “eye-safe” lasers. The flip of a switch in the plane is the difference between “eye-safe” vs. weaponry laser use.

The type of aircraft, ground activity and devices used are almost certain to change incrementally with segmented future NEPA analyses if the military acquires this unprecedented new Range. Foreseeable changes include: Replacement of F-15s with F-35s. Use by the military from all over the country and other nations. publicized.

Boise Guardian article, and insistent citizens kept asking questions,

the AF agreed to hold public meetings. The initially scheduled Boise meeting was abruptly cancelled on the day it was to take place, with the AF claiming it needed to bring in experts on the proposal. On April 13th, a public meeting was finally held.

How the Meeting Went Down

Two AF presenters (Sheri Robertson and Major Adam Mattheis) described the overflights. They said they must have the chaos of a city, and the vertical space of “urban canyons”. When asked why they can’t use the existing CAS training fake building sites on the Owyhee Bombing Ranges, Nellis and elsewhere, the response was: There is not enough chaos. We need an urban environment. We don’t have enough vehicles to create chaos on the ground. The enemy uses urban areas.

Idaho state legislator John Gannon pressed the Air Force on whether any other city in the country was being used for Urban CAS, and if this Range proposal for Boise/southern Idaho was unique. After persistent questioning, and much hemming and hawing, the AF acknowledged this was not taking place anywhere else.

The AF said Urban CAS training had been done without NEPA up to 3 years ago in Boise and Las Vegas, and they stopped when they realized no NEPA analysis had ever taken place. Public questions continued to drill in on when and how often this had taken place. The AF had no answers.

A citizen commented that a 2016 AF NEPA analysis made changes on the Owyhee Ranges and added more CAS fake building sites. It had considered an alternative for Urban CAS in Boise, Glenns Ferry and Mountain Home. The AF had rejected even analyzing the alternative, because the action was too controversial. The AF now claims that they only rejected analyzing the ground part, but did not consider the air activity part. Adding in the air component makes it even more controversial.

A question was asked about the AF’s separate NEPA analysis for beddown of more Singapore F-15 Warplanes at Mountain Home. The AF said there will be more planes, but no increase in flights. Yet the AF’s own document shows there will be an increase in flights. Circa 2009, a Singapore squadron bedded down at Mountain Home. The reason given was that poor little Singapore had no place to train –with no mention of the $$$ from the plane purchase as a driver. Singapore has splendid “urban canyons”, so it’s hard to understand their need for such War training in Idaho.

Many folks voiced concerns about the lack of notification of meetings and media coverage. A citizen stated that as of Tuesday, Boise City Council was not aware of the public meeting. The AF said they have been in discussions with Boise Mayor Bieter. That is alarming. Bieter has relentlessly pursued basing of F-35s at the Boise Airport, and is likely to gladly offer up Boise civilians as War Game fodder – no matter the safety risks. After persistent concerns about lack of public notice and need for more details on what would actually take place, the AF agreed to hold another meeting in Boise.

Questions were asked about safety. The AF repeatedly said how safe it would be. F-15s had low accident rates, and most accidents occur during take-off and landing. This did not appease people. When asked about an accident “splatter radius”, the AF did not know the distance. When asked about lasers, the AF said planes will use the lasers, not the military ground people, and there are safety precautions. The planes have two modes – one with safe Lasers and another with weaponry Lasers.

When questioned about video images, the AF responded by saying something indecipherable about the technology used. If a person was driving behind a ground force vehicle the Warplanes were targeting – would they be in the image? The reply was Yes.

The AF was asked: What if a private landowner does not want the military ground people in their parking lot. The AF said they wouldn’t be using private parking lots. When asked what they will be using then – the BLM parking lot? – the AF did not know the answer.

When asked if there was a sunset clause, or if the proposed new Range would be in perpetuity, the AF did not know. The upshot is the military experts specifically brought in to address public concerns did not have the answers to many questions. At one point, the Major asked if people thought there was a need for the training. The crowd answered No.

A citizen described how the Idaho Army National Guard (IDANG) was luring out of state and other military branches to the Guard’s Orchard Training Area in the Snake River Birds of Prey Area. They profit off payments made by the outside Units coming in. (And coincidentally, now the Guard claims they need more land). The AF said it would not do this.

Increasingly, all manner of military planes are flying over Boise for prolonged periods. Some are commercial airliners modified for various military uses and resemble regular commercial planes. After a question was asked about two odd aircraft spied that same day, the AF replied they were Navy P-3 Orions practicing landing at the Boise airport.

Why would submarine hunter planes be in Boise circling and circling, annoying civilians with their noise? What really is the full footprint of military activity currently being conducted here and across American cities? The Mountain Home CAS Urban War Game scheme shows the military views the civilian population as pretty much expendable – blind to the potential for a catastrophic training crash or other accident, and the health effects of chronic and debilitating military overflight noise, air pollution and other harms.

Open Season on Public Lands

Craven Idaho politicians prostrating themselves for the F-35s have shown the military that Anything Goes in Idaho. Bring us your most outrageous and dangerous schemes. Three military proposals are underway here – the AF Urban War Games, Idaho Air Guard basing of Noise Monster F-35s at the Boise airport (to train over the Owyhee Canyonlands), and an Army Guard proposal to expand the Orchard Training Area. This requires BLM rights of-way across Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area lands – all so the Guard can expand and lease state land to tear up with tanks and Bradley armored vehicles for profit.

The Air Force’s assault on the Wests’ wild spaces is pervasive. There is a proposal to cut nearly 300,000 acres out of Nevada’s Desert National Wildlife Refuge for Nellis Range expansion. Just this week, Utah Test and Training Range and BLM are scoping the periodic closure of 700,000 acres of public lands in Utah’s West Desert for “hypersonic” missile testing.

The Urban War Game Range proposal shows it’s not just public lands, wildlife, Wilderness Areas, and open spaces that are fodder for the War Machine. Soon the West will be one big hellish War Range with no peace and quiet anywhere.

More articles by:

Katie Fite is a biologist and Public Lands Director with WildLands Defense.

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