Navy team safeguards ranges: aims to aid, educate operators

Last Updated : 5/7/2012 2:31:52 PM

NBC Small Arms Range

by Bill Franklin, Navy Region Southwest Environmental Public Affairs Officer

During any day of theweek on the West Coast, Navy personnel are training as they fight by operating aerial drones in the Mojave Desert or qualifying at a small arms range at Naval
Base Coronado.

These training operations depend on training ranges,
which benefit from a relatively unknown group of hard-working sailors and
government service employees from various Navy Commands at Navy Region
Southwest, in San Diego, California. The Enhanced Readiness Team helps
installations sustain long-term access to large open space ranges and monitors
new laws or regulations that could severely impact or shutdown range
operations. “This is critical to help a sailor train as he fights,” said Michael
J. Huber, DoD regional environmental coordinator program manager.  

“The biggest threat to training ranges is the competition
for scarce land, air and water space within our ranges. The second is
litigation and the threat of litigation based on a lack of understanding by
certain non-governmental organizations of the Navy’s environmental protection
programs,” said Alex Stone, U.S. Pacific Fleet, environmental readiness
division program manager, and an ERT member.

According to Huber, the ERT started in late 2006. He
described it as a “gate opener” which allows environmental, legal, facilities
and other NRSW support staff to share information about pending legislation or
regulation that could impact or halt operations. “We call it outreach but it’s
really in-reach to provide education and awareness about topics the operators
need to learn about and provide us with feedback,” said Huber.

This includes in-reach to ERT members about mission-critical training ranges like
the small arms range at Naval Base Coronado. One of eight at NRSW
installations, this training range is critical to keeping ships’ crew’s mission
ready: to protect personnel and assets from hostile forces, said Cmdr. Jesse A.
Lankford, deputy of training, NRSW.

“Simulation is a valuable training tool.  However, it is difficult for simulators to
provide the same level of stress or to teach the respect for weapons safety
that is gained through firing a live weapon,” said Lankford.  

The ERT has been such a successful information sharing
and networking forum that U.S. Fleet Forces has adopted the model and taken it
Navywide, according to Huber.     

This model approach helps protect unique Navy training assets such as the Shore Bombardment (training) Area at the Navy’s San Clemente Island. SHOBA is used by the fleet for ship-to-shore shelling operations to prepare for deployment and is the only live-fire range of its kind in the Navy. The possibility of losing or impacting its operation is a primary example of what the ERT was established to protect, said Huber.

The ERT routinely puts operators in direct contact with NRSW staff and not only builds a culture of awareness but allows us to maintain and sustain military mission capability by staying on top of regulatory issues that operators are subject to, said Christopher L. Stathos, NRSW fleet environmental coordinator.

Take for example, the latest advancement in weapons platforms, the unmanned aircraft system. The UAS is the new frontier when it comes to weapons systems, said Stathos.

“There are FAA requirements and safety concerns that need to be resolved. We need to find more open spaces that allow operators to train and Navy scientist to research and develop such systems,” he added.   

Stathos, co-chair of the ERT describes how the California Marine Life Protection Act designates Marine Protected Areas that could have shutdown or severely hampered operations. The ERT was a means to gather feedback from our network of operators and successfully defend against designating more MPAs around our littoral naval installations and islands offthe coast of Southern California, said Stathos.     

“The ERT is one of the only forums that bring environmental, operational, legal, land use and range management professionals together from across the NRSW area of responsibility. The relationships that develop in the ERT translate into processes that address range sustainability issues beyond the ERT. These relationships are one of the biggest benefits,” said Stone.

Sailors rely on training to be successful during deployments in whatever their position. Providing the best training before these deployments requires fully capable and sustainable ranges. The ERT allows Navy to manage environmental and encroachment issues to ensure protection,preservation and enhancement of these training ranges, said Stone.



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