SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- The U.S. Air Force is considering using Dugway Proving Ground as part of its testing of a new hypersonic jet vehicle.
However, a member of Utah's congressional delegation says that is not the impetus for the base's request last fall to expand onto adjoining federal land, The Salt Lake Tribune reported Tuesday.
The military's long-term planning document for Dugway released last October says part of the expansion includes building a mock city to rehearse chemical and biological attacks and responses.
"There are a lot of people in the military who are looking into an expansion of Dugway and it would be the ideal facility for this," said U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah.
He declined to give any specifics he's gleaned from talks with military officials about expansion plans. Base officials have refused to publicly disclose why they requested permission in October from the Army Development and Test Command in Maryland to study expanding onto the federal public land to the south and west.
Those areas would be beneath one of two proposed 400-mile-long, 40- to 60-mile-wide "hypersonic flight corridors" that the Air Force is now studying over Utah, Nevada and California.
But the Air Force says this would not require additional land at Dugway, and says a recently released study on environmental impacts from the overflights is not related to the Army's expansion study request.
"This would be for testing an air-launched hypersonic vehicle that would fly up into space and then land at Edwards Air Force Base3/8," said Gary Hatch, spokesman for the California base that is host to the Air Force Flight Test Center.
An unmanned experimental jet capable of flying at seven and a half times the speed of sound would be released at 40,000 feet altitude from a large jet flying over Utah's western desert above Dugway or the Nevada desert above Nellis Air Force Base, according to a draft of the Air Force study on the flight corridors.
A booster rocket would propel the test jet up to 105,000 feet, where it would then accelerate under its own power to hypersonic flight speed before gliding down to land on a dry lake bed at Edwards.
The Air Force study identified two alternative landing sites in Utah for the initial test: Michaels Army Airfield at Dugway or Ibex Wells, a salt flat about 60 miles southwest of Delta in the Tule Valley on Bureau of Land Management land.
The study says for the Dugway option in any emergency landing, the western approach must be used since there would be "significant risk" to people and base facilities if the craft landed from an the eastern approach, The Tribune reported.
The edge of the new hypersonic flight corridor also would be above the Skull Valley Goshute Indian Reservation, site of a proposed high-level nuclear waste storage facility.
No test schedule has been announced.
According to the military's plan for Dugway's expansion released last fall, bioweapon and defense testing would double at the base and increase counterterrorism training "from a minimal activity to a substantial mission component."
The report calls for a permanent annex to the Lothar Salomon Life Sciences Test Facility, a 32,000 square-foot building used to conduct biological defense trials.
A command and control facility for testing activities and a building to test protective equipment also would be constructed.
"What they are talking about could mean new jobs going to Tooele County, since we'd have to build a lot of the stuff they would need," Bishop said.
(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)