The Air Force Research Laboratory handed over its High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program facility in remote Gakona, Alaska, to the University of Alaska Fairbanks during a ceremony Aug. 11, officials announced. “The government’s invested about ?290 million federal dollars. In the last decade or so, the Navy, the Air Force, and DARPA … expanded it and increased the power and made improvements. So it really is exquisite,” university geophysics institute head Bob McCoy said, quoted by Alaska Public Media. “It’s a good catch for the state of Alaska and the university in Fairbanks to get this excellent facility,” he added. The 40-acre antenna array inaugurated in 1990 was used to observe the ionosphere’s electromagnetic effects on communications, radar, and satellite navigation systems, according to AFRL. The Air Force initially planned to demolish the site 200 miles west of Anchorage after conclusion of the research program. Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James agreed to delay dismantling the site until the university could iron out how to take it over, responding to a petition by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) last year.
The Air Force will begin its 71st annual Operation Christmas Drop on Dec. 4. The weeklong exercise is a yearly tradition that delivers supplies such as food, fishing equipment, school books, and clothes to remote islands in the Pacific. It is the longest-running Department of Defense humanitarian mission.