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Special Operations Command Low Altitude Training Proposal Violates Federal Law: Pentagon is hiding full scope and impacts of plan, opponents say
TRINIDAD, COLORADO—November 4, 2011—Today, organizations Not 1 More Acre! and Grassland Trust submitted a 77-page comment letter opposing an Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) plan to implement robotic warfare training in airspace over the entirety of public and private land in southern Colorado and northern New Mexico.
Opponents submitted the letter in advance of the November 5 deadline for public comment on the Draft Environmental Assessment (EA) issued by Cannon Air Force Base (AFB), New Mexico for its drone training plan.
According to the Draft EA, Special Operations Command aircrews, including the 27 SOW (Special Operations Wing), would fly after-dark missions as low as 300 feet above ground level including formation exercises, aerial refueling, and drops and retrievals of personnel and supplies.
Cannon’s Draft EA, written by global private military contractor SAIC, admits that the notoriously accident-prone CV-22 Osprey and C-130 combat aircraft stationed at Cannon AFB will be primary users of the proposed low-altitude training areas (LATA).
Not 1 More Acre! and Grassland Trust recently obtained the General Plan, an official AFSOC document detailing transformation of Cannon AFB. Opponents’ comment letter reveals that the Draft EA fails to disclose essential facts found in the General Plan.
The General Plan discloses that Special Operations forces are already using many variants of C-130 aircraft, Predators, Reapers, and other unmanned remotely piloted armed aircraft. In fact, the General Plan lists as many as 13 additional combat aircraft currently used in exercises by Cannon Special Operations
In addition, the opponent groups discovered that regulations governing low-altitude training areas and aerial refueling tracks were classified only days before public release of the Special Ops Draft EA.
Attorney for Not 1 More Acre! and Grassland Trust Steve Harris asked, “Why have the rules become classified information? Making these secret raises serious questions about low altitude training and nighttime aerial refueling.” Harris continued, “What about spills? Will refueling be conducted as low as 300 feet? How many aircraft will be involved? Where will refueling happen? Are there any restrictions? Because the rules governing low altitude training and refueling are now classified, the public is prohibited from knowing any of this.”
Opponents’ comment letter exposes the Special Operations Command proposal to be one piece of a larger secretive plan by the Pentagon to establish a Joint Forces Training Area throughout northern New Mexico and southern Colorado.
“The Draft EA is deceptive, purposely misleading, and it violates public disclosure requirements of NEPA(the National Environmental Policy Act). This plan is another piece of the Pentagon’s goal to transform our entire region. Think of it as the 51st state dedicated to robotic warfare,” said Jean Aguerre of Not 1 More Acre!, a group that won a 2009 federal court order against Joint Forces massive expansion plans in southern Colorado.
The catastrophic consequences of high-tech robotic warfare training would permanently damage the enormous biological diversity in the region. The vast area Joint Forces Special Operations Command covets includes airspace over private and public lands of universal value including sacred Native American lands; Pueblos; Spanish Land Grants; generational farms and ranches; national grasslands; national parks; national monuments; national wilderness areas; national wildlife refuges; state wildlife areas; state trust lands; state parks; roadless areas; proposed wilderness areas; municipal and county open spaces; biological conservation areas; national historic trails and archaeological sites.
In 2005, Cannon AFB was put on the base closure list in order to realize annual recurring savings of $205,500,000 with a 20-year net present value of $2,647,500,000. Due to political expediency, a “new mission” was found for Cannon and it was taken off the closure list. On October 1, 2007 the Pentagon activated the 27 Special Operations Wing (27 SOW) at Cannon under the jurisdiction of AFSOC.
Joint Forces Special Operations Command and its contractors are seeking to militarize over 60 million acres of southern Colorado and northern New Mexico as part of Transformation, a Rumsfeld-Cheney vision of robotic warfare that has changed the face of war outside of public awareness. The Pentagon’s sustained effort to segment its plans for the region into pieces is deliberate and meant to avoid the rigorous environmental evaluation and public disclosure requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act.