Military conducting large exercise over Alaska

A pair of F-15C Eagles from the 18th Wing at Kadena Air Base, in Japan, take off from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson near Anchorage, Alaska, Tuesday, June 23, 2015, while participating in Northern Edge, a joint training exercise. (Bill Roth/Alaska Dispatch News via AP)
A pair of F-15C Eagles from the 18th Wing at Kadena Air Base, in Japan, take off from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson near Anchorage, Alaska, Tuesday, June 23, 2015, while participating in Northern Edge, a joint training exercise. (Bill Roth/Alaska Dispatch News via AP)

JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska (AP) – The sparse expanses above Alaska are a little more crowded this month as nearly 200 military aircraft are taking part in an annual training exercise.

Nearly 6,000 military members from all four branches of the military are taking part in Northern Edge 2015, which includes naval exercises in the Gulf of Alaska and some operations involving ground troops. The U.S. Pacific Command exercise, coordinated by command leaders in Alaska, tests the readiness of the nation’s troops and isn’t in response to any increased tensions with any other nation, said Lt. Col. Tim Bobinsky, who is helping lead the exercise.

Northern Edge is normally held every two years, but this is the first exercise since 2011. The government shutdown, or sequestration, forced the cancellation of exercises in 2013.

Bobinsky said Alaska offers the military a unique training opportunity, including 65,000 square miles of air space.

“As everyone knows, Alaska is very large,” he said Tuesday. “And because of that we have some great opportunities to have some large training air spaces that give us awesome opportunities to conduct things that we can’t do in very many other places, not just in the United States but around the world.”

Alaska also offers land and sea to accommodate maritime and ground forces exercises. Three U.S. Navy destroyers and a submarine are taking part in simultaneous exercises in the Gulf of Alaska, but not without controversy. Some people in gulf towns such as Cordova and Kodiak have protested the exercises, worried about what the Navy’s presence might do to salmon and other marine life.

One of those ships, the guided-missile destroyer USS Shoup, is expected to sail up Cook Inlet and dock at the Port of Anchorage on Wednesday.

(Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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