Key West on the Short List for New Navy Drone Base

Key West is on the U.S. Navy's short list to become its East Coast home base for a drone system, a project requiring up to 400 military personnel, and locals have a 30-day period starting Sept. 1 to weigh in.

Naval Air Station Key West is one of three sites under consideration, joining Naval Station Mayport in Jacksonville and Virginia's NASA Wallops Flight Facility to build a launch and recovery base for four MQ-4C Triton drones.

The Navy is willing to spend nearly $11 billion for 68 of the pilotless, unarmed aircraft designed to provide combat information.

So far, the Navy's project is in the environmental assessment phase, which began in April, to study potential impacts on noise, air quality, transportation and biological, water and cultural resources.

"What's happening is just the environmental assessment of the three sites," said Trice Denny, a Navy spokeswoman in Key West. "It's basically documentation saying the three sites are suitable and have been studied for the possibility of the Triton squadron."

The Triton -- 48 feet long with a wingspan of about 131 feet --is designed to fly 24-hour-long missions at 50,000 feet, covering some 2 million square miles of ocean, at up to 357 mph, with the purpose to provide combat information.

Triton, who in Greek mythology was the messenger of the sea and a son of Poseidon, has flown more than 455 flight hours, according to the Navy, which plans to continue tests at Maryland's Naval Air Station Patuxent River for the first planned deployment in 2018.

A 30-day public comment and review period runs from Sept. 1 to Oct. 1. Paper copies of the draft version of the environmental assessment are available at the county library in Key West, 700 Fleming St., and the Florida Keys Community College library, 5901 College Road.

Letters postmarked no later than Oct. 1 will be considered in the final report, the Navy said. The address is Navy MQ-4C Triton UAS Home Basing Project Manager, Naval Facilities Engineering Command Atlantic, Attn: Code EV21JB, 6506 Hampton Blvd., Norfolk, VA 23508.

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