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Navy Complains About Varying Sonar Rules

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After routine pre-deployment training exercises in Hawaii, some Navy personnel have complained that the differing operational requirements imposed by federal courts in Hawaii and California are complicating, and at times compromising, their mission. Rear Adm. James P. “Phil” Wisecup, commander of the strike group, said the changing sonar rules “just complicate things” in a warfare area that’s already very complex. “In the end, just give me a standard, and I can meet it,” Wisecup said, “But if the standard changes — and it is changing from one area to another — as different judges interpret the law and make decisions on a very complex issue — then we have to adapt.” As a result of federal court decisions in California, the Navy must shut down sonar when marine mammals are within 6,600 feet. For anti-submarine warfare training off Hawai’i, sonar intensity must be reduced starting at nearly 5,000 feet from mammals, and shut down at 1600 feet. (The Navy’s preferred approach would begin reducing sonar power at 3000 feet and shut it off at 600 feet) Off the southern coast of California, the Navy said it must post three watchstanders and two National Marine Fisheries Service lookouts. Off Hawai’i, the Navy has to have three dedicated marine mammal lookouts and at least three watchstanders on the bridge team. Cmdr. Curtis Goodnight, commander of the Howard, said while training off Southern California in March, he had cornered a U.S. submarine playing the role of an adversary. Goodnight dispatched a helicopter to drop a sonobuoy, but the helicopter saw whales in the target area. “It interfered with the training very profoundly, because I then had to make a tactical decision — do I break contact with the submarine? Or, do I take a chance that the whales will clear and that the sonobuoy can be dropped and regain contact?” Goodnight said. “So these become commanders’ decisions that you probably wouldn’t make if someone was really trying to shoot at you.” Paul Achitoff, lead lawyer in the Hawaii challenge, said the Navy’s refusal to adapt their training procedures after earlier court cases is behind the differing court interpretations. “Throughout this litigation, both in California and here, and in the 9th Circuit (Court of Appeals, the Navy’s) position has been, time and time again, to absolutely reject any form of mitigation beyond what they themselves had proposed a long time ago,” Achitoff said. Similarly, U.S. District Judge David Ezra last month noted the Navy was taking a “very hard line” in its request to modify his February court order governing Hawaiian training. Sources: Honolulu Advertister, 5/29/08[READ ARTICLE] Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 6/1/08 [READ ARTICLE] Honolulu Advertister, 6/3/08 (enviros and judge comment on Navy hard line) [READ ARTICLE] Navy News, 5/29/08[READ ARTICLE] 
[See AEI Special Report: Active Sonars]

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