MARINE CORPS AIR STATION BEAUFORT, SC -- The scream of jet engines and clouds of dust from dropped ordnance signaled a change at Townsend Bombing Range, Ga., Aug. 3.
After more than a decade of planning, coordination and requests, the restructuring of the airspace above the range was approved by the Federal Aviation Administration to improve training and to decrease conflicts with civilian aircraft.
A group of Marines from Fightertown, including Col. Dave Beydler, the commanding officer of Marine Aircraft Group 31, and Lt. Col. Troy Ward, the Air Station executive officer, were present at the opening ceremony.
“It’s a culmination of 13 years of work in rearranging the airspace,” said Brig. Gen. Steven Westgate, the vice commander of the Georgia Air National Guard, after the “ribbon cutting” for the new airspace. “It will be better for the military and better for general aviation.”
Before the changes in the airspace, civilian air traffic was forced to detour around the Military Operating Area known as the Gator MOA. The changes allow for sections of the newly christened Coastal MOA to be turned on and off as necessary, according to Air Force Lt. Col. James O’Brien, the Townsend Bombing Range commander.
“We will activate the Coastal MOA airspace only as required to conduct military training,” O’Brien said. “When the airspace is not in use, a recording will broadcast the date and times the airspace will next be in use by the military.”
The boundary for the new MOA was reduced while increasing the overall operational airspace available, according to O’Brien.
“The restructuring and modification of the existing MOA will allow greater training capability in pursuit of a ‘train the way we fight’ concept,” O’Brien said. “It allows for more efficient utilization of airspace and greater flexibility in attack deliveries and corridors.”
Townsend Bombing Range is officially owned by the Marine Corps, but the range is run by the Georgia Air National Guard as part of a joint services agreement. Together, the Marines and the Air National Guard provide a training area for all the services to use in a realistic environment.
“The working relationship is excellent,” O’Brien said. “Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort and the Georgia Air National Guard work together in partnership to provide the greatest training capabilities available.”
Townsend Bombing Range is the primary air-to-ground range for MAG-31. The new airspace will allow Beaufort squadrons to more effectively train their aircrews, according to Beydler.
“Now the range space does not extend out quite as far to the West as it used to, but the area covered by the (Townsend range complex) is larger – 300 feet on the bottom up to 25,000 feet on the top,” said Maj. Lance Muniz, the MAG-31 current operations officer. “This allows aircrews to ingress to the target either at high altitude or low altitude depending on what type of training is required. This also allows aircrew to practice high altitude release of weapons which is more representative of the tactics required for real world contingencies.”
Beydler and the Marines of MAG-31 already have plans on how to utilize the new airspace at Townsend, including a Large Force Exercise scheduled for the week of August 14.
“We will take advantage of the increased training opportunities afforded by the newly structured airspace combined with the great working relationship we have with the Guard unit at Townsend in order to maximize our training and better prepare ourselves for real world operations,” Beydler said.