A new $29 million battle course at Pohakuloa Training Area has gone out to bid, and U.S. Army officials expect to award a contract by May 25.
The mobilization of equipment and supplies should follow just weeks later, Deputy Garrison Commander Greg Fleming said. Work on the ground likely won’t start until sometime in August or September. Tasks ahead included grading, the installation of targets and clearing ordnance from the area.
The approximately 1 square mile infantry platoon battle course will allow service members to do live-fire training as a coherent unit rather than being broken up on smaller ranges like they are now, said Garrison Commander Lt. Col. Eric Shwedo. The larger space is needed to train soldiers — as well as sailors and Marines — to current standards, he said.
The Army also plans to build a mock urban area out of shipping containers for target practice by aircraft.
Jim Albertini, president of the Malu Aina Center For Non-Violent Education &Action, opposes any developments on the ground at PTA unless they’re accompanied by extensive radiation monitoring.
“Rather than building villages to bomb, we should be building villages to house people,” he said.
New solar panels installations could meet 50 to 65 percent of the training area’s current use if the Army installs a battery storage system and makes other upgrades in the future, Shwedo said. Contractors with Sunetric were working on wiring Wednesday for a 40-kilowatt photovoltaic system on the roof of PTA headquarters. Two other 75-kilowatt systems are under construction at the airfield.
“They should be up by August. They’re ahead of schedule,” Fleming said.
Garrison Command is also considering moving Bradshaw Army Airfield or turning the facility into a heliport. Shwedo said that some buildings are too close to the runway, and the Army will look at all options for the airfield. Helicopters are the primary users of the airfield, Shwedo said.
The Army intends to update other facilities that date back to the 1950s, but lacks firm plans — so improvements could be years away.
An archaic 1950s-era electrical distribution system needs upgrading to handle modern loads and to accommodate solar energy production, Fleming said. He would also like to add two civilian electricians.
“There are no high-voltage electricians on staff,” he said. “If one of these high-voltage transformers or lines went out, we’d have to call over to Oahu.”
Pohakuloa can be covered in dust during periods of high winds. The same dry, unforgiving environment that makes the region an excellent training ground also plays havoc with equipment, Shwedo said. Wind-driven soil has gathered in mounds around the base of 65-year-old Quonset huts which house training service members before they go into the field. Some of the floors are 2 feet below the level of the soil outside, and the units leak and flood.
The huts may be replaced by concrete block buildings, but specific sizes and configurations will have to be worked out, said Shwedo, who has had preliminary discussions with other military branches that use the training area.
“We’re asking, ‘What do you want to see at Pohakuloa?’ Then bring your checkbook,” Shwedo said.
Shwedo said none of the shortcomings at PTA are lost on the chain of command.
“Everyone is rowing in the same direction on this,” he said.
The Army is also eyeing four potential well sites and an additional site on Hawaiian Home Lands property. At stake are the 4,000 truckloads of water PTA hauls in each year. Recent discoveries of water in the saddle area could greatly reduce the training area’s water bill, depending on how much water is available, Shwedo said. The Army’s first well near the training center headquarters struck water 1,900 feet below the surface. A second well is planned for this summer near the intersection of the old Saddle Road and Daniel K. Inouye Highway at the western end of the training area.
“What the first well doesn’t tell us is the recharge rate,” Shwedo said. “That’s what the second one will tell us.”