Arizona ideal for expanded training on Apache helicopters

Arizona congressional members are asking the U.S. Army to consider expanding military training in the state to meet a growing demand for pilot and technical training for foreign militaries that purchase Apache helicopter systems.

Currently, an aviation training site in Arizona is only at 35 percent capacity and would be an ideal location for the training to support U.S. sales of military aircraft, said eight members of the Arizona congressional delegation in a June 10 letter to Army Secretary Mark Esper.

The site, the Western Army Aviation Site (WAATS) north of Tucson, is well equipped as one of the Army’s premier aviation training locations for attack and scout helicopters, and home to a state-of-the-art flight simulator complex, the letter said.

It’s also perfectly situated in open desert with unencumbered, year-round access to hundreds of square miles of airspace dedicated to aviation training.

“We wanted to make you aware of an opportunity to enhance the Army’s aviation modernization and readiness initiatives while supporting the National Defense Strategy’s mandate to strengthen alliances and attract future partners,” the officials write.

Building partnerships with foreign militaries 

Countries that purchase military equipment like Apaches from the U.S. receive pilot and technical training at military training sites like WAATS that is managed by the Arizona Army National Guard.

Although it is primarily a training facility for the Army National Guard, WAATS trains personnel allied countries in Europe and Asia as well as the U.S. Army, the Army Reserve, and the Army National Guard.

An important component of the training program is the ability to build one-on-one relationships at all levels with partner nations, Arizona Army National Guard officials said.

Currently, the Arizona Army National Guard has a 20-year joint partnership with the Republic of Singapore to provide training at WAATS at the Silverbell Army Heliport at Pinal Airpark.

WAATS training builds Arizona economy

Expanding training in Arizona also would benefit the state, Army Guard officials said.

Currently, the Silverbell Army Heliport generates $148 million annually for the state of Arizona and provides more than 800 jobs.

Using WAATS also would alleviate future capacity issues at the U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence in Fort Rucker, Alabama, the lawmakers’ letter said. The center had 63 available training seats in fiscal year 2018. That is expected to more than double in the coming years.

“WAATS has the equipment, personnel, base operations support, and subject matter expertise necessary to support the Apache foreign military sales training program,” wrote the legislators.

The eight lawmakers who signed the letter are: U.S. senators Krysten Sinema (D) and Martha McSally (R), and U.S. representatives Andy Biggs (R), Ruben Gallego (D), Debbie Lesko (R), Tom O’Halleran (D), David Schweikert (R), and Greg Stanton (D).

Victoria Harker

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