U.S. NAVY PHOTO / JANUARY 2008
The Navy relies on active sonar to pinpoint potentially hostile submarines that run quietly on batteries while submerged. Earlier generations of subs were detectable by "passive" sonar -- that is, listening for hull and propeller sounds. Here, Petty Officer 1st Class Mark Osborne supervises fellow sonar technicians Petty Officer 2nd Class Randy Loewen, left, and Petty Officer 3rd Class Roland Stout as they monitor contacts aboard the destroyer USS Momsen off Southern California.
Navy will stick to 29 sonar safeguards
The Navy will continue to follow sonar procedures it deems adequate to protect marine mammals during the Pacific naval war games that begin Sunday.
Those procedures are part of an environmental impact statement that was released yesterday for the so-called Hawaii Range Complex, waters around the islands that extend as far south as Johnston Island and past Midway Atoll to the northwest.
In the 40 years the range has been used, the report notes, "no known marine mammal strandings directly related to Navy activities have occurred."
Capt. Dean Leech, environmental counsel for the U.S. Pacific Fleet, said, "Most of these activities have been conducted in Hawaii for many years, and the Navy is not seeking any additional land, sea or air space with this environmental impact statement."
The Hawaii Range, which covers 2.4 million square miles, "allows training to take place using a geographic scope that replicates real-world events," the report says. The area encompasses Kauai's Pacific Missile Range Facility, deep water for anti-submarine warfare exercises and beaches for amphibious landings.
The environmental statement is one of a dozen the Navy is preparing for ranges in waters in the Pacific, in the Gulf of Alaska and off the East Coast.
Mark Matsunaga, Pacific Fleet spokesman, said the environmental statement incorporates the 29 provisions the Navy agreed to last year with the National Marine Fisheries Service.
Those include exemptions from the Marine Mammal Protection Act for major military exercises like the biennial Rim of the Pacific naval exercise, which will start Sunday, governing the use of sonar that critics believe is responsible for stranding marine mammals.
Matsunaga said that under the EIS, Navy and allied warships operating in the Hawaii Range are required to:
» Reduce the power of their sonar systems by 75 percent when a marine mammal is spotted within 3,000 feet. The sonar must be completely turned off if the marine mammal comes within 600 feet.
» Post two additional lookouts when operating within Hawaii waters in addition to the three normally on duty.
Vice Adm. Samuel Locklear, commander of the U.S. 3rd Fleet, said, "The Hawaii Range Complex is a vital area for Navy training and research. Completion of the environmental impact statement and the record of decision will help the Navy continue to use the Hawaii range and to increase those activities as needed for the nation's security while we maintain our stewardship of the environment."
The Navy has maintained that the welfare of its sailors and warships depends on proper training to detect diesel submarines that operate on batteries and can lie on the ocean bottom for days, surfacing only to recharge their batteries. More than 300 of these diesel subs belong to the navies of China, Iran, North Korea and other potentially hostile nations.
Earlier this week, the Supreme Court agreed to review a ruling of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals that would limit the use of sonar in naval training exercises off the southern coast of California because of potential harm to marine mammals.
In Hawaii the Navy also plans to appeal to the 9th Circuit a similar ruling made by Judge David Ezra in February involving the use of sonar in underwater warfare exercises undertaken in Hawaii waters by U.S. aircraft carrier strike groups.