Two military exercises underway in Alaska this month are bringing additional aircraft to the skies over Southcentral as well as a rare aircraft landing expected to close a section of the Parks Highway next week, tying up traffic for several hours.
Arctic Edge, a training exercise involving the U.S. Air Force, Army, Marine Corps, Navy and Coast Guard, began May 4 and continues through May 19. The training, conducted by the military’s Northern Command, is being held concurrently with the Northern Edge training conducted by the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command.
This year marks the first time Arctic Edge is being held annually, a U.S. Northern Command spokesman said Friday.
For the first time, the event also involves the planned landing of a military aircraft on the Parks Highway south of Cantwell near Broad Pass on Wednesday, necessitating a four-hour closure of the main artery between Anchorage and Fairbanks.
The U.S. Air Force plans to land a C-146A Wolfhound — a special operations twin-engine plane capable of carrying up to 27 passengers — on the highway, the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities said Friday. The exercise will necessitate the closure of the highway between Miles 198 and 201 on Wednesday from 9 a.m. until approximately 1 p.m., though bad weather could push the closure until Thursday.
State transportation officials are trying to get word out in advance of the closure, especially to tour operators and freight haulers who rely on the Parks.
Still, they were expecting up to 1-mile backups on either side of the closed section of highway, according to John Perreault, a spokesman for DOT’s northern region.
“This is a new thing, and probably a rare thing,” Perreault said Friday.
He urged drivers caught in the delay to be patient and exercise caution.
U.S. Air Force Major Mike Giaquinto, a special operations Command North spokesman based in Colorado, said the military worked with state officials to find the least disruptive way to carry out the training flight.
The landing allows the Air Force to test the capabilities of the plane, which is smaller than the C-130s and other large tankers Alaskans may be more familiar with, Giaquinto said. A similar training was held on a road in Wyoming.
The Parks Highway landing area, set in an Alaska Range valley south of Denali National Park and Preserve, allows the pilots with the 524th Special Operations Squadron to stay “current on their skill set where it may be a bit more difficult to land,” Giaquinto said.
He said the military appreciated the disruption the landing might cause and the support of the community.
The landing is part of the Arctic Edge training. The separate Northern Edge training involves thousands of U.S. service members, five ships and more than 150 aircraft, according to a statement from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.
Operating locations include Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Eielson Air Force Base, Fairbanks International Airport and Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, the release states.
The skies over the Arctic garnered national attention when a series of flying objects were sighted or shot down over Alaska and Canada. Alaska-based fighter jets scrambled to intercept Russian bomber and fighter aircraft in international airspace off Alaska’s coast in February and bombers in April. It’s not unusual to see Russian activity in that zone, officials have said.
Arctic Edge is “primarily a demonstration of capability,” said U.S. Navy Lt. Dale Eng, public affairs officer for Northern Command. “Obviously there’s a lot of focus now on the Arctic. That’s the primary reason why we’re up here.”
Typically the exercise occurs only in even-numbered years, Eng said.
“It’s going to be an annual event,” he said. “This year is a little more scaled back. Next year it will be a much more multi-national exercise.”