Drone training flights proposed for Hawaii site

An RQ-21A Blackjack belonging to Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron 2 sits on the flight line of Marine Corps Outlying Field Atlantic, March 21, 2014. The Blackjack is eight feet long with a wing span of 16 feet and can hold payloads up to 25 pounds.
An RQ-21A Blackjack belonging to Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron 2 sits on the flight line of Marine Corps Outlying Field Atlantic, March 21, 2014. The Blackjack is eight feet long with a wing span of 16 feet and can hold payloads up to 25 pounds.

HILO, Hawaii (AP) — The Pohakuloa Training Area on Hawaii’s Big Island would host drone training flights for up to 12 weeks a year under a proposal to relocate unmanned aircraft to the state from California.

The reconnaissance drones would be based at Marine Corps Base Hawaii at Oahu’s Kaneohe Bay, according to an environmental assessment that was completed recently. The drones also would use training areas at the Pohakuloa Training Area and on Kauai. Under the proposal, training would take place at the Pohakuloa Training Area as much as four times a year for three weeks at a time.

The Hawaii Tribune-Herald (http://is.gd/ONZQes ) reported that 12 Shadow and 45 Blackjack drones would be involved in the transfer of the Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron Three, currently based in Twentynine Palms, Calif.

Under the proposal, relocation would begin as early as June. Blackjack drones would be added early next year.

According to the assessment, the transfer would allow the Marines to achieve a balance in its capabilities in the Pacific region. It also would help ensure troops were properly trained and equipped.

The types of drones used at PTA help troops understand “what’s over the next ridgeline,” said Lt. Col. Eric Shwedo, commander of the training area.

“It’s important they get this training, especially at Pohakuloa,” he said. “It is one of the largest areas of restricted airspace in the area.”

Hawaii-based military units have flown Raven and Shadow drones at PTA, according to Shwedo, who said no live-fire exercises have occurred with the drones.

Drone flights have occurred in Hawaii since 2007, according to the environmental assessment.

The document says that if Shadow and Blackjack drones were given weapons capabilities, live-fire exercises would be limited to areas authorized for munitions training.

The assessment includes a finding of no significant impact. That means an environmental impact statement is not required.

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