Saylor Creek Range

The Saylor Creek Range [SCR], the existing training range for the 366th Wing, consists of approximately 110,000 acres of land withdrawn by the DoD for the purpose of weapons delivery training. The range, situated about 6 miles south of the Snake River in Owyhee County, extends 15 miles north-south and 11 miles east-west. The exclusive use area (EUA) consists of approximately 12,200 acres located in a fenced area near the center of the range and includes all of the range's training targets. A zone of about 97,800 acres surrounds the EUA; livestock grazing and hunting represent the primary land uses in this zone.

The EUA contains five groups of scorable targets and two strafe pits used for conventional air-to-ground training. The targets include a conventional target circle, a small cluster of armored personnel vehicles, an airfield complex, a command post, and small air defense sites with a SAM and AAA battery. These highly visible targets, which offer obvious visual clues such as devegetated run-in lines to guide aircraft approaches, provide none of the concealment expected under actual combat conditions. Furthermore, the targets lack realism in terms of the configuration, spacing, and separation required for tactical ordnance delivery training. Due to constraints on the airspace at SCR, and the proximity of the targets to one another, this conventional range permits only limited attack angles and precludes simultaneous weapons delivery on multiple targets by different aircraft. Such limitations substantially reduce the range's usefulness for tactical weapons delivery.

Electronic emitters and sites for locating electronic emitters form an important and integral part of the ground assets required by the 366th Wing. Most required training operations involve the use of electronic emitters to provide a realistic arena in which aircrews must detect and respond to simulated threats while completing mission objectives. To ensure realism, the number and location of electronic emitters need to vary to create different defense systems and to prevent aircrews from memorizing threat locations. The 366th Wing currently has a total of four emitter sites. Of the four existing emitter sites, three lie within SCR and one is situated near Highway 51 south of the town of Grasmere. Because of their small number and clustered distribution, these emitter sites provide limited flexibility and capability to create a realistic and varied threat scenario.

Military aircraft training and operations have been conducted over southwest Idaho since 1942. To train aircrews for combat in the Second World War, the U.S. Army Air Force established training airfields in Boise (now Gowen Field) and Mountain Home (now Mountain Home AFB). Flying B-29, B-24, and B-17 bombers, as well as P-38 and P-63 pursuit aircraft, the aircrews conducted training over much of southwest Idaho, but particularly in the 420,000-acre Saylor Creek Bombing Range and four other Precision Bombing Ranges (PBRs). Training included a wide variety of activities such as aerial gunnery, bombing practice, low-altitude flight, and navigation.

As a Strategic Air Command (SAC) base in 1949, Mountain Home AFB supported B-29 bombers that continued to train over the lands in southwest Idaho. Between 1949 and 1960, the base and the training facilities were used by reconnaissance aircraft, transport wings, and bombers. Flight operations and training activities varied considerably during this period, depending upon the nature of the aircraft and the mission.

SAC added B-47 jet bombers to the aircraft inventory in 1960, using the base, Saylor Creek Bombing Range, and the airspace over southwest Idaho. Also, construction of three Titan missile complex sites in Owyhee and Elmore counties occurred at the same time. Although aircraft continued to fly over large portions of the high desert lands and canyons of southwest Idaho, new tactics, missions, and technology permitted the Air Force to return approximately 310,000 acres to the public lands inventory during the 1960s, including the four PBRs. The remaining 110,000 acres of SCR has remained essentially unchanged to the present.

Tactical Air Command (now Air Combat Command [ACC]) assumed control of the base and range in 1966, using SCR and southwest Idaho and its vicinity for low- and high-altitude reconnaissance and tactical fighter training. Thus, jet aircraft activities have had an influence on the environment of the region for more than 30 years. With the arrival of F-111 fighter-bomber aircraft at Mountain Home AFB in 1972, jet aircraft activities over southwest Idaho increased in frequency and duration. About a decade later, electronic combat EF-111 aircraft replaced one of the three F-111 fighter-bomber aircraft squadrons, and intense flying activities at the range and in the airspace continued.

During the period from 1972 through 1991, the F-111 and EF-111 aircraft operated intensely throughout the airspace above southwest Idaho, using SCR and the Military Operations Areas (MOAs) as they exist today. In addition, these and other transient aircraft used segments of two low-altitude (100 feet above ground level [AGL]) military training routes (MTRs) that crossed Owyhee County from west to east. These segments of MTRs visual route (VR)-1301 and VR-1302 were eliminated in 1993 to remove a source of concentrated noise over the Owyhee River canyon.

Potential enemy threats and mission training for F-111 and EF-111 aircraft focused on low-altitude flight tactics to evade detection by radar. To train for this tactic, F-111 and EF-111 aircrews commonly flew 1.6 to 1.8 hours in the MOA and range airspace at 300 to 500 feet AGL for the majority of their 3-hour sorties. From 1972 through 1986, use of the airspace including the Owyhee MOA averaged more than 7,000 sortie-operations per year; this equated roughly to 11,200 to 12,600 hours of low-altitude flight annually. At this time, RF-4C aircraft from the Idaho Air National Guard (IDANG) and transient aircraft from other bases and services also used the airspace and range assets in southwest Idaho. Given the tactics of the time, many of these other users also conducted longer duration sorties at low altitudes.

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