ICYMI: WaPo Feature Story on Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex (JPARC)

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) was interviewed by Dan Lamothe, a reporter with theWashington Post, for a story, published today, exploring the U.S. Air Force’s extensive training exercises conducted at the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex (JPARC) in Interior Alaska. The complex is expected to play an increasingly important role in military readiness with the arrival of two squadrons of F-35A Joint Strike Fighter aircraft at Eielson Air Force Base nearby, and the acceleration of Great Power competition and technological advances being made by U.S. adversaries, particularly Russia and China.


In remote Alaska, changes coming in how the Air Force prepares for war

By Dan Lamothe


May 14, 2020

ABOARD A U.S. MILITARY AIRCRAFT OVER ALASKA — Lt. Col. Jason Monaco soared six miles above lush wilderness, his fighter jet streaking across the icy blue sky. He banked his two-seat F-16D to the right, shooting around an eight-jet formation maneuvering against him and his fellow pilots.

Gazing through a dark visor, he glimpsed his adversary’s jet for the first time.

Then, bad news.

“Well,” he said, “we just died.”

Sporting a gray helmet with five-pointed red stars on each side symbolizing communism, Monaco looked like he could have been a foreign adversary stalking U.S. targets. But he is the commander of the U.S. Air Force’s 18th Aggressor Squadron, which flies “red force” jets against the “blue force” Americans in training missions.

Their playground is the remote Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex (JPARC), a facility that has more than 77,000 square miles of airspace — roughly the size of Nebraska. For decades, it has been used to prepare for real-world missions, with pilots warned to watch out for bears and moose if they must eject.

But the range and its headquarters at Eielson Air Force Base are taking on increasing importance as the Pentagon attempts to pivot to countering China and Russia after years of focusing primarily on ground wars in the fight against terrorism.

The first two of 54 new F-35 jets, the service’s most advanced stealth fighters, arrived at Eielson in April, said Col. Benjamin Bishop, who oversees the base. More are expected throughout the year as the Pentagon wrestles with how to prepare for the Chinese J-20, the Russian Su-57 and other modern jets U.S. adversaries are building.

In addition to the F-35s, which cost some $80 million each, about $500 million in upgrades are planned, including dozens of climate-controlled hangars and modern surface-to-air missile simulators designed to challenge pilots flying in radar-evading jets.

The changes mark a commitment to turning a remote base on the Alaskan frontier into a major hub in preparing pilots for modern aerial combat.

The Alaska range was placed on a back burner for years while the Pentagon fought expensive wars in the Middle East and Afghanistan. A declassified Defense Department inspector general report last year said the simulators at the range date back decades and are unable to effectively challenge pilots training in the F-35 and F-22.

Additional improvements depend on steady funding in coming years — which remains uncertain and could be complicated if the economic crisis brought on by the coronavirus pandemic forces the Defense Department to reduce spending. Air Force officials in the past have debated moving the aggressor squadron at Eielson to consolidate maintenance costs, but the idea was scuttled under fierce opposition from the Alaska congressional delegation.

The plans now include two new fighter jet squadrons on base and double the number of airmen, from about 1,750 to 3,200, said Bishop, the commander of the 354th Fighter Wing. The expansion will come in a rural area where the closest town, North Pole, has a population of 2,200 people and the main attraction is a Santa Claus House gift shop featuring live reindeer and a 50-foot statue of St. Nick.


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