Navy and Marine Life: Environmental Permits to Enable Vital Training and Testing

By Rear Adm. Kevin R. Slates 
Director, Chief of Naval Operations Energy and Environmental Readiness Division

Today, the Navy releases the final environmental impact statements that will allow us to continue training and testing in the waters off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, Hawaii, and in the Gulf of Mexico. As we reach this major milestone, it is important to stress the value of at-sea training and testing as well as our track record of responsible environmental stewardship.

In alignment with the Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert’s tenets and our Title 10 responsibilities, we have a mission to operate forward to keep the global commons open and accessible.

We must maintain the ability to conduct realistic training to accomplish that national security mission while being respectful of the marine environment.

Sonar Technician (Surface) 3rd Class Benjamin Obryan, bottom, and Operations Specialist 1st Class Lawrence Bedeau monitor the Anti-Submarine Warfare Module aboard the aircraft carrier USS George Washington (CVN 73) in the Philippine Sea, Nov. 7, 2012. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Michelle N. Rasmusson/Released)

Sonar Technician (Surface) 3rd Class Benjamin Obryan, bottom, and Operations Specialist 1st Class Lawrence Bedeau monitor the Anti-Submarine Warfare Module aboard the aircraft carrier USS George Washington (CVN 73) in the Philippine Sea, Nov. 7, 2012. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Michelle N. Rasmusson/Released)

A key reason we need to conduct live training and testing at sea is the worldwide proliferation of quiet, modern submarines and other technologies. These threats are not a Cold War artifact. Many adversaries have and continue to acquire modern, quiet subs, torpedoes, and underwater mines that pose serious threats to the lawful use of the sea, the global economy, and the safety of our forces. Active sonar is the most effective means available today to detect, track, and target subs and other threats under all ocean conditions.  

While we use simulators for some of this training, active sonar operation and underwater explosive ordnance handling are perishable skills that require training at sea under realistic conditions that cannot be replicated by simulation alone. Newly developed systems and ordnance also must be tested in the same conditions under which they will be operated. Without this realistic training and testing, our Sailors cannot develop and maintain the critical skills they need or ensure that new technology can be operated effectively.

The best available science and more than 60 years of similar training and testing demonstrate that our proposed activities will continue to have minimal effects on marine mammal populations.

We have proactively coordinated with regulatory agencies and adopted their suggestions for standard operating procedures to protect marine species and the environment wherever possible, such as using trained lookouts to avoid marine mammals while underway and ramping down or halting sonar if marine mammals approach our ships within certain safety zones. With the care and diligence of Sailors like you, we have been able to protect marine life without jeopardizing our ability to conduct essential training and testing.

For years, the Navy also has partnered with universities, research institutions, federal labs, private companies, and independent researchers around the world to study marine species physiology and behavior, and share information to better understand the ocean environment. As we learn more, we will continue to work with regulators to refine and improve our analysis, and our protective measures, so we can continue to train and test while respecting the oceans. Thank you for all you do on a daily basis to ensure we remain ready and are good stewards of the environment.

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