Condor Military Operations Area
- No acceptable over-land airspace exists in the Northeast for the 104th Fighter Wing (104 FW) to achieve realistic mission oriented training in the low altitude regime (500-5,000 feet [ft] Above Ground Level (AGL)).
- 104 FW is tasked with Aerospace Control Alert (ACA) in the Northeast providing the nation’s defense of several major population areas and important infrastructure. North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) requires pilots to be qualified and current in low altitude operations in order to conduct ACA.
- The F-15C aircraft is a single seat highly complex aircraft that was designed for Air Superiority in any environment. Realistic low altitude training events over-land need to be performed annually for pilots to be Combat Mission Ready (CMR). CMR is the minimum training required for pilots to be qualified and proficient in all of the primary missions tasked to a unit and weapons system.
- Low altitude airspace with varying terrain is critical for F-15 and F-16 pilots to practice maneuvering in a real world environment to prepare against real world threats. Training in a realistic environment, especially low altitude, develops and maintains appropriate skills and proficiency to ensure proper levels of readiness to protect national interests both domestically and overseas.
- Realistic mission oriented training requires asymmetric threat intercepts from various azimuths and includes Defensive/Offensive Counter Air training and ACA. Training for such threats as cruise missiles, unmanned aircraft systems, low observable aircraft, light aircraft, high performance aircraft in complex missions require low altitude airspace.
- Currently, the 104 FW mainly utilizes the Adirondack Airspace Complex. This complex marginally allows for low altitude proficiency and is limited to part-task low altitude intercept training due to size constraints of the airspace thus not meeting the intent of realistic mission oriented training. The 104 FW requires low altitude airspace to allow multi-axis complex training in order to be appropriately prepared.
- The existing Condor MOAs (7,000 ft MSL to 17,999 ft MSL), located over southwestern Maine and the northeastern edge of New Hampshire have been used for over 37 years for training.
- This proposal would modify the MOA airspace by lowering it from 7,000 ft Mean Sea Level (MSL) (equivalent to 2,800 to 6,300 ft AGL) to 500 ft AGL with a negligible change in the lateral boundaries to allow the 104 FW to meet the requirement for realistic mission oriented training.
- Several low-altitude training routes (down to 500 ft AGL) currently exist covering 54% of Condor MOA. Approximately 30% of the routes are currently used. The routes are one way only, allowing limited horizontal and vertical maneuvering. Currently, the main purpose of these routes is for low level navigation training, not realistic tactical training.
- Current low-altitude training routes require aircraft to maintain constant low altitudes, with limited altitude variation. With this proposal, the total time aircraft will be flying in the 500-1,000 ft AGL regime will decrease and be spread over a larger geographic area. This would allow more efficient intercept training, with transitions occurring from the high-to-low and low-to-high altitude structure.
- Total aircraft usage would average 2.5 hours per month spent below 1,000 ft AGL with this proposal.
- Primary users of the airspace will be the 104 FW (F-15s), MA and the 158 FW (F-16s), VT. The F-16s could potentially be replaced by the F-35. The F-35 Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) assesses the airspace over Maine as currently charted. The F-35 is not being assessed in this initiative.
These instructions direct and provide guidance to flying units
- NORAD special instructions require pilots conducting 24-hour ACA to be current and qualified in low altitude training (LOWAT).
- Air Force Instructions define LOWAT as performing realistic, mission oriented air-to-air operations while in the 500-1,000 ft AGL block over land (F-15C Ready Aircrew Program Tasking Message and Air Force Instruction 11-2F15 Vol 1 Sep 10).
- Air Force Instructions state that LOWAT qualification is a requirement for Combat Mission Ready (CMR) status (AFI 11-2F15 Vol 1 Sep 10).
- The low altitude portion of the Adirondack Airspace Complex in upstate New York allows for only a single-axis engagement therefore, achieving only a portion of the training required.
- The low altitude airspace structure is used seasonally and is reduced in size from May 1 to Nov 1 annually.
- Additional low altitude airspace is not achievable due to incompatible land uses.
- Yankee MOA in New Hampshire cannot provide the required airspace size without creating new training airspace laterally. FAA regulations require modification to existing special use airspace (SUA) prior to creating new airspace boundaries whenever possible.
- Deploying to specifically achieve low altitude training is prohibitively expensive; and would require multiple deployments to achieve LOWAT objectives and maintain proficiency and currency. However, when the unit(s) deploy, pilots will fly in the low altitude environment if available, reducing the military flying activity in Condor MOA.
FINDINGS AND PROCESS
- This proposal is being administered as required under the National Environmental Policy Act and 32 CFR 989.
- Overall noise levels will be reduced due to less time in the low altitude regime; noise would be dispersed over a larger geographic area.
- Airports will be avoided in accordance with FAA regulations; overflight of Tribal Lands will be restricted when they are in use for tribal activities and hunting; threatened and endangered species areas will be avoided seasonally as coordinated with the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
- The final draft Environmental Impact Statement is prepared and will be released when Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act consultation with the Penobscot Indian Nation has concluded.
- The FAA is the final decision making authority for airspace usage and modifications in the Continental United States.
- A MOA does not prohibit general aviation (GA) from utilizing the airspace. GA and military aircraft safely operate in similar low altitude airspace today under the “see and avoid” concept. Examples are the Coastal Airspace (Georgia) and the Smitty MOA (New Mexico). This does not preclude a continued collaborative effort to further improve safety and mitigate any impacts through coordination with all stakeholders.
- Communication capability for the flying public has been initiated and is under review at this time to identify communication issues leading to potential solutions.
As of February 2016, the NGB and USAF are reviewing the proposal and the Final
Environmental Impact Statement. A Notice of Availability of the Final EIS
will be made in the Federal Register, via local media outlets and on this
website. Should the USAF decide to approve the airspace modification, a
Record of Decision could be made as soon as spring 2016. After which the FAA
will conduct public meetings prior to issuing their decision.