Guest Opinions

Mountain Home urban warfare proposal represents unprecedented military overreach

A pair of F-15s fly over the airspace above Lucky Peak near Boise in February 2017.
A pair of F-15s fly over the airspace above Lucky Peak near Boise in February 2017.

Mountain Home Air Force Base proposes to establish a permanent new F-15 Urban Warfare CAS (Close Air Support) Training Range across nine Idaho cities, from Boise to Burley. This would shift military activity currently taking place on the Saylor Creek Bombing Range and other military withdrawn lands and airspace to over top of much of the civilian population of Southern Idaho.

The proposal involves thousands of annual overflights by F-15E warplanes, coupled with military personnel operating on the ground driving on paved roads, in neighborhoods and in parking lots. The ground personnel would be disguised as civilians, using what are termed “eye safe” lasers and other devices.

Activity would take place over and within the urban canyons of Boise. The proposal requires a large city with 10-story buildings. So Boise must be chosen. The War Games will take place both day and night, for three-hour bouts at a time, with potentially thousands of flights per year. At the lowest flight levels, the sound would be equivalent to a power mower.

This poses many risks and dangers to Boise residents. It is training. With training comes the possibility of mistakes, or crashes. Military planes contain toxic substances and dangerous equipment. There would be increased air pollution, and contrails turning blue skies gray. It would inflict military plane noise for prolonged periods of time, both day and night. It is likely to disrupt sleep cycles, interfere with work and school, and harm our quality of life.

The proposal affects the area of densest human population in Idaho, across nine cities and the towns surrounding them. The circles, each 15 nautical miles in diameter, overlay Burley, Rupert, Paul, Declo, Heyburn, Albion, Hansen, Kimberly, Twin Falls, Mountain Home, Filer, Eden, Wendell, Gooding, Hagerman, Bliss, Buhl, King Hill, Boise, Garden City, Eagle, Kuna and part of Meridian – nearly a million people. Significant public lands vital to recreation and wildlife are found across the targeted region, from the Boise Foothills to the Birds of Prey area and to sage grouse habitats south of Twin Falls.

The type of warplane and on-the-ground activity and devices are likely to be changed incrementally after the military acquires a range – to different aircraft (potentially F-35s, which are to replace F-15s) or to use by transient military planes or foreign militaries.

The proposal was initially sent to a small group of “stakeholders.” As citizens probed, the Air Force scheduled scoping meetings but informed few people. The day of the Boise meeting, the Air Force abruptly canceled all four remaining meetings.

The Air Force has fake building sites and areas where it has proficiently been conducting Urban CAS training. Ranges like Nellis have fake towns for this purpose. There is no need to inflict War Games training on a civilian population. The proposal is extraordinary overreach. It is an unprecedented air and land grab by the military over civilian populations, with no previous parallel. It endangers the health, safety and quality of life of Idahoans.

Katie Fite is public lands director for WildLands Defense.