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The Navy’s Proposed Action

To ensure the Navy accomplishes its mission to maintain, train, and equip combat-ready military forces capable of winning wars, deterring aggression, and maintaining freedom of the seas, the Navy proposes to:

  • Adjust training and testing activities from current levels to the level needed to support Navy requirements beginning October 2015.
  • Accommodate evolving mission requirements associated with force structure changes, including those resulting from the development, testing, and introduction of new vessels, aircraft, and weapons systems.

Many of the training and testing activities evaluated in the NWTT EIS/OEIS have been analyzed by the Navy in previous environmental documents. The Northwest Training and Testing (NWTT) Environmental Impact Statement (EIS)/Overseas Environmental Impact Statement (OEIS) is being prepared to renew federal regulatory permits and authorizations for current training and testing activities and to propose future training and testing activities requiring environmental analysis. Click here for details regarding the Proposed Action and Alternatives.

Proposed Action and Alternatives

Proposed Action
The Navy’s Proposed Action is to conduct training and testing activities primarily within existing range complexes, operating areas, testing ranges and select Navy pierside locations in the Pacific Northwest. The Proposed Action includes pierside sonar testing conducted as part of overhaul, modernization, maintenance and repair activities at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton, Naval Base Kitsap at Bangor and Naval Station Everett.

The Proposed Action would ensure the Navy accomplishes its mission to maintain, train and equip combat-ready military forces capable of winning wars, deterring aggression and maintaining freedom of the seas. This mission is achieved by conducting realistic training and testing activities in the Pacific Northwest. The Navy’s Proposed Action and alternatives will be evaluated in the NWTT EIS/OEIS to assess potential environmental impacts from proposed training and testing activities.

Through the NWTT EIS/OEIS, the Navy will:

  • Reassess the environmental analyses of Navy at-sea training and testing activities contained in two previous EISs/OEISs and various environmental planning documents, and consolidate these analyses into a single environmental planning document. This reassessment will support reauthorization of permits under the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act. The two EIS/OEIS documents being consolidated are:
  • Northwest Training Range Complex EIS/OEIS, completed with community input in 2010
  • Naval Sea Systems Command Naval Undersea Warfare Center Keyport Range Complex Extension EIS/OEIS, completed with community input in 2010
  • Adjust training and testing activities to support current and planned Navy requirements, including limited sonar use (high-frequency and not hull-mounted mid-frequency active sonar) in Puget Sound for homeland defense training activities. As part of the adjustment, the Navy proposes to account for other activities and sound sources previously covered in separate environmental analyses.
  • Analyze the potential environmental impacts of training and testing activities in additional areas where they historically occur, including Navy ports and naval shipyards.
  • Update the at-sea environmental impact analyses in the previous documents to account for force structure changes, including those resulting from the development, testing and use of weapons, vessels, aircraft and systems that will be operational prior to 2020.
  • Update environmental analyses with the best available science and most current acoustic analysis methods to evaluate the potential effects of training and testing activities on the marine environment.

Evaluating Alternatives

The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires federal agencies to evaluate a range of reasonable alternatives to achieve the purpose and need of the Proposed Action. Two “action” alternatives (Alternative 1 and Alternative 2) that meet the Navy’s purpose and need are currently under consideration. Analysis of a “no action” alternative is also required. These alternatives, and other reasonable alternatives identified during the scoping process, will be analyzed to help determine the appropriate level and type of training and testing activities to meet the Navy’s requirements.

No Action Alternative

Under the No Action Alternative, the Navy would continue current training and testing activities as defined by existing environmental planning documents, including the Northwest Training Range Complex EIS/OEIS and the Naval Sea Systems Command Naval Undersea Warfare Center Keyport Range Complex Extension EIS/OEIS. The baseline testing activities also include other testing events that historically occur in the NWTT Study Area (see Figure 1) and have been subject to previous analysis pursuant to NEPA and Executive Order 12114. Analysis of the No Action Alternative provides a baseline, enabling decision makers to compare the magnitude of the environmental effects of no action (current activities) to the effects of the action alternatives. Baseline activities do not include training with sonar in Puget Sound.

Alternative 1

Alternative 1 includes adjustments to types and levels from baseline activities conducted in the NWTT Study Area to support current and planned Navy at-sea training and testing requirements. Under Alternative 1, sink exercises would be eliminated.
Alternative 1 includes:

  • Testing activities at Navy pierside locations in Puget Sound, the Carr Inlet Operations Area and the Southeast Alaska Acoustic Measurement Facility
  • Mission requirements associated with force structure changes, including those resulting from the development, testing and introduction of new vessels, aircraft and weapons systems into the fleet

Alternative 1 includes some activities that were not analyzed in previous documents. New activities being considered include:

  • Use of new and existing unmanned vehicles and their acoustic sensors, in support of homeland security and anti-terrorism/force protection. This type of training is critical in protecting the nation’s military and civilian harbors, ports and shipping lanes.
  • Use of 0.50-caliber blanks in Puget Sound in support of force protection training of the Navy’s Maritime Expeditionary Security Force.
  • Addition of a biennial maritime homeland defense mine countermeasure training exercise in Puget Sound and analyzing the amount of time acoustic sensors are used during that event.

Alternative 2

Alternative 2 includes all activities in Alternative 1 plus adjustments to the type and level of training and testing activities. Under Alternative 2, sink exercises would be eliminated.

Environmental Resources to be Analyzed

Some of the environmental resource areas and issues to be studied in the NWTT EIS/OEIS are listed below. The public is encouraged to provide input on these or other resource areas for consideration in the Draft EIS/OEIS.

  • Ocean and biological resources, including marine mammals and threatened and endangered species
  • Terrestrial resources
  • Air quality
  • Sediments and water quality
  • Airborne soundscape
  • Cultural resources
  • Transportation
  • Regional economy
  • Recreation
  • Public health and safety

Importance of Training and Testing

Importance of Realistic Training and Testing

Ensuring Navy personnel are prepared to go into harm’s way requires rigorous, real-life training and testing in the air, on land and at sea. Readiness training and testing activities must be as realistic as possible to provide the preparation necessary for the success and survival of U.S. service men and women. There is no substitute for training and testing in real-world environments. The Navy uses designated air, land and ocean areas where Sailors can safely train with aircraft, vessels and sophisticated systems, such as weapons, sensors and related equipment. In these designated areas, the Navy can practice real-life situations and provide feedback on how well personnel performed.

Test ranges, such as the Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC) Keyport Range Complex in Washington, provide facilities and capabilities to support Navy research, development, test and evaluation activities (“testing activities”). These activities may include testing of torpedoes, unmanned vehicles, submarine readiness, diver training or similar activities that are critical to the success of undersea warfare. Conducting testing activities in varying marine environments, such as differing water depths, seafloor types, salinity levels and other ocean conditions, and in simulated war-fighting environments allows for accurate evaluation of system capabilities. 

Why the Navy Trains and Tests

Naval forces must be ready for a variety of military operations – from large-scale conflict to maritime security to humanitarian assistance and disaster relief – to be able to deal with the dynamic social, political, economic and environmental issues that occur in today’s world. The U.S. Navy responds to a wide range of issues because of its continuous presence on the world’s oceans.

To learn the necessary skills, Sailors must train with the equipment and systems that will achieve military objectives. The training process provides Sailors with an in-depth understanding of their individual limits and capabilities.

The training process also helps the Navy’s research, development, test and evaluation community to improve new weapon system(s). Test and evaluation of underwater systems ensures reliability and availability of systems from inception through deployment, from the first prototype to pre‐production stages to maintenance and upgrades.

Military readiness training and testing activities must be as realistic as possible to provide the experiences necessary for success and survival. Navy range complexes, test ranges and operating areas in the Pacific Northwest have these realistic environments, with sufficient sea and airspace that are vital for safety and mission success. 

Training Activities in the Northwest

Navy Sailors participate in four levels of training, from learning basic skills to participating in joint (multi-service) exercises. Training levels include:

  • Classroom and simulation training, usually using computers.
  • Basic level training, which may consist of individuals, small groups of personnel or a single crew (ship, submarine or aircraft) training on its own.
  • Intermediate level training, which involve exercises of strike groups operating together as large forces and may last several weeks. After completing this training, Sailors are well-prepared and may be certified for deployment or other activities depending on the nation’s needs.
  • Advanced level training, which involve exercises during which a large grouping of forces is provided with a situation, and must plan and respond as if responding to a real crisis.

All of the skills necessary to conduct these activities safely and effectively are challenging to achieve and difficult to maintain without constant practice. While simulators and synthetic training provide early skill repetition and enhance teamwork, there is no substitute for live training in a realistic environment. The Navy must maintain a rigorous, comprehensive training regimen to ensure Sailors are ready to use these skills when called upon.

Tactical Skills Training

Tactical training includes activities where personnel and crews learn skills they need to operate machinery or weapons. These activities include:

  • Operating vehicles, aircraft, submarines and ships
  • Conducting weapons training
  • Detecting and locating submarines
  • Finding and removing underwater mines and other explosive ordnance disposal
  • Training Navy divers in a cold-water environment

Testing Activities in the Northwest

Testing activities conducted in the Pacific Northwest are important for maintaining military readiness. New and emerging technologies are constantly being researched and developed by the U.S. Department of Defense, and eventually these technologies must be tested and evaluated before use by the Fleet. The Navy uses a number of different testing methods, including computer simulation and analysis, in the development of ships, submarines, aircraft and systems.

Although simulation is a key component in the development of vessels, aircraft and systems, it does not provide critical data on how they will perform or whether they will be able to meet performance and other specification requirements in the environment in which they are intended to operate. For this reason, vessels, aircraft systems and system components must undergo at-sea testing at some point in the development process.

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Navy vessels, aircraft and systems must be tested and evaluated within the broadest range of operating conditions available because Sailors must be capable of performing varying missions within the wide range of conditions that exist worldwide. Access to unique range attributes, such as diverse marine environments that simulate a threatening environment, allow vessels, aircraft systems and system components to be tested and improved before deployment. Navy personnel must be assured that vessels, aircraft and systems will meet performance specifications in the real-world environment.

Navy testing activities may include:

  • Basic and applied scientific research and technology development
  • Evaluation and maintenance of ships, submarines, aircraft and systems, such as missiles, radar, sonar, unmanned undersea vehicles and unmanned aerial vehicles

Because sonar systems are critical to the Navy’s ability to defend against adversary submarines and anti-ship mines, it is necessary to conduct scientific research, evaluate new sonar systems and maintain the operational capability of current systems.

Some testing activities are similar to training activities and may appear to be the same to an observer. However, the purpose of the activity differs. For example, Sailors may fire a torpedo to practice the procedure, while researchers may fire a torpedo to assess the technology or to ensure that the torpedo meets performance specifications. Testing activities occur both at sea and in port and may occur independently or in combination with training activities.

Training and Testing Using Sonar and Explosives

Need for Sonar Training and Testing

More than 300 extremely quiet diesel-electric submarines are operated by more than 40 nations worldwide, and these numbers are growing. These quiet, difficult-to-detect submarines, as well as in-water mines and torpedoes, are threats to global commerce, national security and the safety of military personnel. As a result, anti-submarine warfare is a top war-fighting and training priority for the Navy.

Navy anti-submarine warfare training and testing activities include the use of active and passive sonar systems and small explosives charges (used as sound sources), which prepare and equip Sailors for countering threats. The development of anti-submarine detection and weapons systems is also a priority for the United States.

Sonar Training

Sonar proficiency is a complex and difficult skill that requires constant training in realistic conditions at sea. Lack of realistic training could jeopardize the lives of Sailors in real-life combat situations. This training cannot be duplicated with simulators or other artificial means.

Sonar Systems Testing

Scientific research, acquisition, maintenance and repair require pierside and at-sea testing to deliver combat-ready systems to naval forces. Some of the systems that require testing are sonar systems. Conducting scientific research on new sonar technology and existing sonar systems, and acquiring new systems and maintaining current systems are necessary to equip and maintain combat-ready forces capable of winning wars. The Southeast Alaska Acoustic Measurement Facility is the Navy's primary acoustic engineering measurement facility in the Pacific Northwest and it provides the capability to perform research, development, test and evaluation activities to determine the sources of acoustic noise, assess vulnerability and develop quieting measures.

What is Sonar?

Sonar, an acronym for SOund NAvigation and Ranging, uses sound energy waves to detect and locate submerged objects, such as submarines and mines. There are two types of sonar:

Passive sonar
is a sound-receiving system that “listens” for sound waves generated by man-made or biological sources using underwater microphones that receive, amplify and process underwater sounds. Passive sonar does not put any sound energy in the water. Passive sonar can indicate the presence, character and movement of submarines if submarines are loud or operating at high speed. Passive sonar is less capable than active sonar of detecting quiet submarines operating in areas where background noise levels are elevated, such as coastal waters. Although improvements in passive sonar are continually being researched, passive sonar currently is less effective than active sonar against quiet, modern diesel-electric submarines.

Active sonar
is the most effective means available for locating objects underwater. Active sonar sends out a pulse of energy, often called a “ping,” that travels through water, reflects off an object and returns to a receiver on the ship. Skilled technicians can use the reflected sonar pulse to determine the range, distance and movement of an object. Common active sonars include echo sounders, such as depth sounders and fish finders; side-scan sonars; and military sonars (hull-mounted and/or sonobuoys).

Active sonar has the ability to locate objects that are too quiet to be detected using passive sonar technology. This makes active sonar invaluable for detecting modern, very quiet submarines. Active sonar is also effective for locating underwater mines. Although active sonar is the most effective way to detect quiet objects, such as submarines, Navy vessels use active sonar sparingly because sonar pulses can reveal a sending vessel’s location, compromising the mission and safety.

Training and Testing in a Noisy Environment

Sound levels in the ocean are not constant, vary with location and change over time. Different sources of sound contribute to the ocean’s overall noise level. Those sources include shipping, breaking waves, marine life and other man-made and natural sounds.

The ocean is generally noisier in coastal areas, where many natural and man-made sounds exist. Coastal waters present a complex environment of varying depths, coastal boundaries, tides and currents, weather patterns, and significant biological and commercial activities.

Coastal waters contain 80 percent of all ocean life and support many human activities, including commercial shipping ports, fishing fleets, and oil exploration and drilling. These activities bring significant noise to the coastal environment and, when combined with complex oceanographic features, create an extremely challenging and varied environment for sonar technicians. Such a complex environment is typically where most nations’ submarines operate today.

Sonar: Then and Now

In response to Allied shipping losses from U-boat attacks during World War I, the Navy began using sonar to locate submerged objects. Today, sonar is used not only to identify, track and target submarines, but also to determine water depth and locate underwater mines. With advances in warfare technology, diesel-powered submarines operating on batteries and air-independent propulsion systems are extremely quiet and hard to detect in the noisy ocean environment. These modern submarines are relatively inexpensive and used by many nations around the world, posing a challenge for the Navy to locate, identify and track them.

Then – 1970s

Submarines of the previous generation were noisy and could be detected with passive sonar before they came close enough to deploy short-range weapons against a vessel.

Sonar technology in the 1970s

Present Day

Modern, quiet submarines can approach close enough to deploy long-range weapons before entering the passive sonar detection range of U.S. vessels. Active sonar has a longer detection range that is needed for Sailors to detect a submarine before it is close enough to attack. 

Sonar technology now

Training and Testing with Explosives

Training with explosives under real-life conditions is necessary for the readiness of military personnel who may be called to respond to emergencies and national security threats. Operating in a high-stress environment, including the use of and exposure to live ordnance and explosives, provides an opportunity for Sailors to practice the critical tasks and coordination essential to survival and success. Practicing these skills is necessary to ensure accuracy and instill confidence in military personnel.

Training and testing with explosives significantly enhances the safety of U.S. forces by improving combat readiness, equipment reliability and personal safety. Testing with explosives is necessary to fully test the effectiveness of devices, such as mines or mine countermeasures. To the extent possible, simulators and other available technologies are used when training and testing. Simulation, however, cannot completely replace training and testing in a real-world environment. Limited training and testing with explosives occur only in established operating areas.