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A B-52H takes off from Minot AFB, N.D., June 11, 2012. Air Force photo by SrA. Jesse Lopez

​The Air Force has approved the plan to quadruple the airspace of the Powder River Training Complex in several Great Plains states to give B-52H crews from North Dakota and B-1B fliers from South Dakota the ability to train more realistically and efficiently close to home. Timothy Bridges, the Air Force’s deputy assistant secretary for installations, signed the record of decision on Jan. 16. The expansion will create the largest training airspace over the continental United States. Among the advantages, the extra airspace will allow the Air Force to conduct several large-force exercises each year where some 20 airplanes will train together as they would fight in actual combat, states the ROD. The decision also adopts “all practicable means to avoid, minimize, or mitigate environmental harm.” The Federal Aviation Administration must now approve the plan and then modify and establish the requisite airspace. Lawmakers in the affected states reacted differently. The decision is “disappointing,” said Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) in a statement. “But there are still opportunities to make sure that Montanans' concerns are heard,” he said. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) said he “applauded” the decision in his statement. “It is rare to have an opportunity to increase national security while saving taxpayer dollars, but that’s precisely what this project does,” he said. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) urged the Air Force in her statement to “live up to its commitments to address the concerns of the communities and have more open communication.”​