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Drone flights proposed for Hawaii site

By Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 2:44 p.m. HST, Apr 11, 2014

HILO » The Pohakuloa Training Area on Hawaii island would host drone training flights for up to 12 weeks a year under a proposal to relocate unmanned aircraft to the state from California.

The reconnaissance drones would be based at Marine Corps Base Hawaii at Oahu's Kaneohe Bay, according to an environmental assessment that was completed recently. The drones also would use training areas at the Pohakuloa Training Area and on Kauai. Under the proposal, training would take place at the Pohakuloa Training Area as much as four times a year for three weeks at a time.

The Hawaii Tribune-Herald reported that 12 Shadow and 45 Blackjack drones would be involved in the transfer of the Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron Three, currently based in Twentynine Palms, Calif.

Under the proposal, relocation would begin as early as June. Blackjack drones would be added early next year.

According to the assessment, the transfer would allow the Marines to achieve a balance in its capabilities in the Pacific region. It also would help ensure troops were properly trained and equipped.

The types of drones used at PTA help troops understand "what's over the next ridgeline," said Lt. Col. Eric Shwedo, commander of the training area.

"It's important they get this training, especially at Pohakuloa," he said. "It is one of the largest areas of restricted airspace in the area."

Hawaii-based military units have flown Raven and Shadow drones at PTA, according to Shwedo, who said no live-fire exercises have occurred with the drones.

Drone flights have occurred in Hawaii since 2007, according to the environmental assessment.

The document says that if Shadow and Blackjack drones were given weapons capabilities, live-fire exercises would be limited to areas authorized for munitions training.

The assessment includes a finding of no significant impact. That means an environmental impact statement is not required.

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