HILL AIR FORCE BASE — Hill Air Force Base’s Utah Test and Training Range occupies 1.8 million acres of desert land in western Utah and eastern Nevada.
The range — which is considered by military insiders and members of Utah’s Congressional Delegation as an important part of Hill’s long-term viability — has undergone several major changes over the last few years, with even more on the horizon.
In 2016, the range was expanded by more than 625,000 acres, an action that involved eight pieces of land situated immediately outside the installation’s former boundary in rural Box Elder, Tooele and Juab counties. Created by an act of Congress, the expansion deal allowed the Air Force to use land owned by the state of Utah or the Bureau of Land Management, to create “buffer zones” for range activities, namely testing “next generation” weapons, like the F-35 Lightning II fighter jet, the F-22 and long range strike bombers.
This year, the Air Force wants to start flying drones at the UTTR.
The Department of Defense is working through a draft environmental assessment related to a plan to test unmanned aircraft at the range. The Air Force wants to establish a restricted area of airspace at the UTTR to operate the drones and to set-up facilities that will allow them to launch, control, recover and maintain the unmanned aircraft.
With all the new activity and space, coupled with the nature of the work done the, the Air Force has been working to make the range safe.
About two weeks ago, a C-130 from the U.S. Air Force Reserve’s 757th Airlift Squadron at Youngstown Air Reserve Station in Ohio, was dispatched to the UTTR to kill weeds and make fire breaks in potentially hazardous areas, according to a press release from Hill.
“We’re the only unit that does aerial spraying in the Air Force with the C-130,” Lt. Col. Don Teig, 757th AS medical entomologist, said in the release. “It’s tactical flying. We fly at about 100 feet to optimize dispersal.”
The C-130 (a plane that has traditionally been used for transporting troops, medics and cargo) was outfitted with a 2,000-gallon tank of an herbicide. The crew treated six areas of the massive range that are not accessible by foot or vehicle because of potential danger related to unexploded ordnance.
The base release said the preemergent herbicide suppresses invasive vegetation without harming native species and is nontoxic to humans and animals.