Pohakuloa Training Area could see upgrades, including a runway capable of handling large air transports, under a bill aimed at enhancing the U.S. military’s operations in the Pacific region.
In its section on PTA, the Asia-Pacific Region Priority Act says the military should maximize its use for training, including exercises with other nations.
It also seeks to address transportation issues associated with sending soldiers to train at PTA from Oahu by recommending construction of a runway capable of handling C-17 transport planes and use of inactive high speed vessels.
The office of U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, one of the bill’s sponsors, said the legislation would make PTA the “premier training range” in the region.
The Hawaii congresswoman’s office also said the bill would prioritize construction costs for a facilities master plan.
The bill addresses other issues, such as gaps in the United States’ ability to respond to threats in the region, cooperation with allies, handling of maritime disputes, and creates an office for developing policies on unmanned aircraft, known as drones.
Hanabusa’s office also said the bill provides $3 million for a Maui Space Surveillance Complex and helps ensure incompatible development doesn’t take place around the Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kauai.
In a statement, Hanabusa said Hawaii is a key player in the nation’s “rebalance to the Asia-Pacific,” adding “this bill ensures that our state and our nation will continue to see the benefits of that role.”
Lt. Col. Eric Shwedo, PTA commander, said a runway capable of handling C-17 aircraft would significantly reduce the presence of military convoys on the Big Island, as well as lower transportation costs for personnel and cargo.
Shwedo said most soldiers are flown to the Big Island for training on Hawaiian Airlines.
The runway would need to be 5,000 feet long. The existing runway is 3,956 feet.
Cost estimates weren’t immediately available.
Shwedo said he hadn’t seen what else is included in the bill but added PTA wants to improve its ranges to meet requirements for helicopter units, as well as integrate training for aviation, infantry and artillery units.
He said he also wants to see temporary barracks used for decades replaced with permanent structures.
“A larger investment is needed on the buildings in the base,” Shwedo said.
He said PTA hosted several visits by Congressional delegation recently, including one last week.
Email Tom Callis at tcallis@hawaiitribune- herald.com.