Military Capabilities

USAF still searching for aircraft training range expansion, modernisation

04 December 2018

F-16s from the 64th Aggressor Squadon fly a mission over the Nevada Test and Training Range (NTTR). The US Air force wants to expand and upgrade ranges such as NTTR, but finds it challenging to expand airspace and expensive to upgrade ranges. Source: US Air Force

Key Points

  • The USAF wants to improve and expand its aircraft training ranges to accommodate fifth-generation aircraft capabilities
  • Expanding airspace is challenging and improving ranges is expensive

The US Air Force (USAF) is continuing its decades-long quest to improve and expand its aircraft training ranges so it can take advantage of fifth-generation aircraft capabilities.

Colonel Gerard Ryan, chief of the Operational Training Infrastructure Division, told Jane's in November at the Pentagon that fifth-generation aircraft such as the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) need more airspace, both in distance and height.

Col Ryan said the Nevada Test and Training Range (NTTR), commonly referred to as the Nellis Air Force Base (AFB), is one of the three main training ranges the service is looking to improve, is 177 km wide - not wide enough to play in a modern threat environment, and is busy. The other two ranges the USAF is looking to improve are the Utah Test and Training Range (UTTR) and the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex (JPARC).

However, the USAF faces one major problem: there is not much room for the airspace to expand. Col Ryan said the service faces competition for airspace from growing commercial airline businesses that already fly around restricted airspace in congested regions such as Nevada and Utah. People who live in vicinity of training ranges also resist training range expansion due to the noise and sonic booms that emit from exercises.

"It's sort of [like] - you need an addition on your house? Well there is no more land to extend out there," Col Ryan said. "I can't get any more real estate or airspace."

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