TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. --
Oklahoma’s most senior active duty officer was one of a dozen speakers scheduled to address the House of Representatives Transportation Committee during an interim study on Oct. 10 at the State Capitol on the impact of tall structures in military training airspace.
Lt. Gen. Lee K. Levy II, Air Force Sustainment Center commander, said he was very thankful and appreciative of the opportunity to address the committee as it conducts its study, stating simply, “This is about the readiness and lethality of our Air Force.”
At issue are tall structures – and in particular energy producing wind turbines – that have sprung up all over the state. The structures are infringing on the airspace used for military operations by pilots at Tinker Air Force Base, Vance AFB, Altus AFB and Fort Sill, as well as Sheppard AFB in Wichita Falls, Texas.
“What I really wanted to do was spend a few minutes talking about our airpower interests in the state and what that means to readiness for our nation today and readiness for our nation tomorrow,” Levy said.
Tinker maintains heavy bombers like the B-1 “Lancer” and the B-52 “Stratofortress” and those aircraft have to be flown in these training areas before they can be certified as combat ready and returned back to their operating units.
Levy said all the flying units in Oklahoma use the low-level training routes where the wind turbines are being installed, to include the Army.
“All of these (flying missions) combined have a near-level effect on our readiness,” he said. “For an Air Force that is the smallest and busiest as it’s ever been, that’s a concern for me and it should be a concern for you as well.
“Our nation’s sons and daughters are expecting us to get this right,” Levy added. “Once we lose these vital training routes and that training route infrastructure, it’s almost impossible to get it back. I would suggest that giving thoughtful and deliberate consideration to this before we take precipitous action is more prudent than trying to unwind the clock.”
The issue of tall structures infringing on military training routes first came to light about a year ago. The goal of the current study is to discuss the impact tall structures have on Oklahoma military bases and their low-level military training routes, military drop zones, and military traffic patterns.
According to Rep. Charles Ortega, whose district includes Altus AFB, building obstructions in these areas could reduce or eliminate the United States Air Force’s ability to instruct low-level navigation and low-level airdrop operations, causing a significant loss in operational capability for these bases.
The essence of bases such as Altus and Vance is their access to readily available and clear airspace in western Oklahoma, Ortega said, adding, the military training routes maximize safety, minimize environmental impact and ensure combat readiness.
Ortega said the military airspace issue was first brought to his attention last year.
“We tried to enact legislation protecting military training airspace, but the parties could not agree on a solution,” said Ortega, who requested the current study.
According to Ortega, the Transportation Committee was able to schedule a balanced agenda with speakers from varying perspectives.
“I believe that industry can flourish, property rights should remain intact, and that our military airspace can be maintained and preserved,” he said. “These parties can coexist and that is what I hope this interim study accomplishes.”
Levy also mentioned the fact that the Air Force is experiencing a shortage of pilots and suggested the situation is only going to get worse. He said bases like Altus, Vance and Sheppard “are critical cornerstones of our aerospace training structure.”
“Not only are they busy today, but it’s only going to increase,” he said. “We’re going to have to train more pilots to address this shortage. It’s a simple fact.
“We are an aerospace nation,” Levy added. “The demand for airpower is only going to increase. I simply ask the committee for their support of thoughtful measures that will ensure we preserve this vital training infrastructure that’s essential to our Air Force, our joint fight and to our nation.”
Tuesday’s agenda included a total of 12 speakers, including Col. Eric Carney, commander of Air, Education and Training Command’s 97th Air Mobility Wing at Altus.
Other military members on hand for the meeting were: Brig. Gen. Thomas Ryan, assistant adjutant general for the Oklahoma Air National Guard; Col. Darrell Judy, commander of the 71st Flying Training Wing at Vance; and Col. Scott Belanger, vice commander of the 82nd Training Wing at Sheppard.
Rep. Steve Vaughan, chairman of the House Transportation Committee, presided over the meeting.
Others scheduled to speak at the meeting included: Craig Smith, representing 5th District Congressman Steve Russell; Jeffrey Clark, president of The Wind Coalition; Dave Belote, CEO of DARE Strategies LLC; Mike Cooper, chairman of the Oklahoma Strategic Military Planning Commission, Tom Buchanan, president of Oklahoma Farm Bureau; and Brian Bush, president and CEO of the Altus Chamber of Commerce.
Scheduled speakers at the day-long meeting also included: Victor Bird, director of the Oklahoma Aeronautics Commission; Michael Kelsey, executive vice president of the Oklahoma Cattleman’s Association; Steven Sample, deputy director of the Department of Defense Siting Clearinghouse; and Deano Cox, area manager of external affairs for AT&T.
Military aviation is responsible for the largest part of the state’s aviation and aerospace industry’s total economic activity, yielding $19.3 billion annually. The industry also is responsible for supporting 72,649 jobs.