Airspace is a finite resource that can be defined vertically, horizontally, and temporally, when describing its use for aviation purposes. As such, it must be managed and utilized in a manner that best serves the competing needs of commercial, general, and military aviation interests. The amount of airspace activity that can be effectively managed is governed by the safety procedures, tracking system capabilities, and level of aviation activity associated with the airspace. The first two factors are usually inflexible, but the third, level of aviation activity, can be managed. The level of long-term airspace activity allowed is generally based on historic data and is referred to as the airspace utilization baseline, which is composed of a commercial and general aviation component and a military aviation component.
The FAA manages commercial and general aviation activity within the airspace, and the military manages the military aviation activity with FAA oversight. Historic military aviation activity is based on two elements: host base activity and transient aircraft activity. Host base activity is generated by the aircraft assigned to the installation. That activity includes its primary mission, such as training or testing, and, its other missions, which include various types of support operations. Those support operations can range from providing planes to support DT&E and OT&E tests to emergency support. Transient aircraft activity is generated by aircraft assigned to other Air Force installations, other DOD services, and other government agencies that use the airspace. Transient activity may be single transits or reoccurring transits through the airspace.
Pilots undergo extensive classroom and flight training before they even reach the briefing room. In addition to receiving classroom instruction, prospective fighter pilots also operate computerized trainers-including an electronic aircraft flight simulator. The instruments in the simulator's cockpit are fully operational, with displays responding completely and realistically to the decisions made by the pilot. Computerized flight simulation is a very valuable tool; however, it cannot take the place of the important interaction between a pilot, an actual flying aircraft and other pilots and their aircraft, during in-flight training exercises.
Every training flight conducted begins with an extensive briefing where the objectives for that flight are thoroughly reviewed. Each carefully planned flight must conform to a strict protocol. With today's highly sophisticated high-performance aircraft, this level of training is essential if pilots are to hone their skills and maintain proficiency.
Modern air-to-air combat is like a three-dimensional chess game. A fighter pilot must be concerned with lateral threats as well as vertical attacks. In wartime, a pilot must frequently operate at supersonic speeds, without having visual contact with enemy aircraft or surface-to-air threats. Modern aircraft can easily fly 100 miles in a matter of a few minutes. And, since sophisticated on-board radar can detect an enemy threat up to 80 miles away, realistic training occasionally requires large amounts of airspace.
Since the amount of airspace required for a particular exercise depends on the technology and tactics involved, only a portion of a MOA may be used for any given maneuver. A basic fighter aircraft maneuver, involving only two aircraft relying on visual contact, may require an area that is only 20 miles square and 20,000 feet high. However, an advanced combat maneuver, involving several aircraft and long-range radar, may require an area 80 miles square and 45,000 feet high.
Air-to-air training is performed in strictly defined airspace, designed to accomplish specific objectives in an environmentally responsible way. Typically, three types of airspace are used for this training: Military Training Routes (MTRs), Military Operations Areas (MOAs), and Restricted Areas (RAs).
A Military Training Route, or MTR, is basically a long, low-altitude corridor that serves as a flight path to a particular destination. The corridor is often 10 miles wide, 70 to 100 miles long, and may range from 500 to 1,500 feet above ground level; occasionally, they are higher. MTRs are designed to provide realistic low-altitude training conditions for pilots. In times of conflict, to avoid detection by enemy radar, tactical fighter aircraft are often called upon to fly hundreds of miles at low altitude over varying terrain. Obviously, navigation is extremely difficult on high-speed low-altitude flights. That's why it is imperative that fighter pilots have ample opportunity to practice these necessary and demanding skills
The second type of military airspace is called a Military Operations Area. Military Operations Areas (MOAs) were "established for the purpose of separating certain military training activities from IFR traffic." They can be identified on a VFR sectional chart by magenta "comb teeth" outlining the MOA. An MOA is special use airspace of defined vertical and lateral dimensions established outside Class A airspace to separate/segregate certain nonhazardous military activities from IFR traffic in controlled airspace and to identify for VFR traffic where these activities are conducted.
These MOAs are larger expanses of airspace designed to accommodate a wide variety of military training maneuvers. However, as newer and far more sophisticated aircraft come into the inventory, current MOAs are sometimes not adequate to meet our training requirements. When that occurs, airspace modifications are proposed that will allow us to meet these requirements. Any such proposal is thoroughly evaluated to determine if it is absolutely necessary and to determine the potential environmental impact, if any. First, before the development of any new airspace, evaluation is made of the current MOA(s) to determine if they can meet the new training requirements. If existing airspace cannot satisfy the required training, then it is examined to see if it can be modified. If modification cannot be made to accommodate new training requirements, then and only then will completely new airspace be proposed. If a decision is reached to implement the proposal, extensive efforts are made to minimize any potential effect on the environment.
Only portions of a MOA may actually be in use at any one time. Normally, MOAs are used during the day for brief periods-often less than one hour at a time. In fact, airspace within a MOA is open to regular commercial and civilian air traffic almost all the time.
A Restricted Area, or RA, is usually reserved for pilots engaged in aircraft weapons training activities. These areas are restricted to ensure the safety of aircraft, both military and civilian, not participating in the training exercise. Restricted Areas, (RAs) differ from MOAs in that they have more definitive constraints compared to a MOA. RAs were established to "denote the existence of unusual, often invisible, hazards to aircraft such as artillery firing, aerial gunnery, or guided missiles." They can be identified on a VFR Sectional chart by blue "comb teeth" outlining the RA.
Occasionally, airspace outside a MOA may be used for training known as Low-Altitude Tactical Navigation, or LATN. This is an exercise reserved for aircraft, such as the A-10 and C-130, that can safely operate at speeds of 250-knots/287 mph, or less. At these speeds, these aircraft are capable of safely merging with general aviation traffic. Military aircraft engaged in this type of exercise, like all other aircraft, are required to comply with federal aviation regulations to see and avoid other aircraft and obstacles.
Low-Altitude Air-to-Air Training, or LOWAT, is one element of training. LOWAT, concerned with aircraft intercept strategies, consists of maneuvers commonly executed in conjunction with other training missions. Two to four aircraft are usually involved in this training. Conducted in approved airspace, these LOWAT maneuvers are generally executed between 500 and 5,000 feet above ground level. In a typical scenario, two aircraft simulate a low-altitude approach to attack a specific target. Two opposing fighter aircraft, called "Bandits," are sent to intercept the attackers. The objectives for the attack aircraft are to detect the Bandits and take appropriate action to neutralize the threat they pose, and then to proceed to the target. Though a training mission may have both offensive and defensive objectives, a constant consideration is to achieve those objectives safely and within the available airspace.
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