Capacity Issues Make OLF An Absolute Requirement

I am responding to Tony Clark’s guest column (“OLF pursuit boils down to noise and money, Sunday, May 10) in order to address some inaccuracies.

First, to correct the historical record: The first runway at the site that is now Naval Air Station Oceana was built in the 1940s — about the same time as NALF Fentress.

Both sites were built as outlying landing fields to support aircraft based at Naval Station Norfolk. The single air station at Norfolk had two OLFs to support training at a time when night flying, particularly from the decks of aircraft carriers, was anything but routine.

In the 1960s, the Oceana site was designated NAS Oceana and became a Master Jet Base, around the same time as NAS Cecil Field did (which, incidentally, had its own OLF). Fentress had been expanded to accommodate the increasing performance of the jet aircraft and the increasing training requirements to land jet aircraft on aircraft carriers at night. Essentially, this area now had two air stations sharing one OLF rather than the one air station with two OLFs.

Following the first BRAC in the mid 1990s, Cecil Field closed and the F/A-18s previously based there were moved to NAS Oceana, increasing the aircraft density in the area and increasing noise impacts to those living in the vicinity of Oceana and Fentress.

In October 2000, when Adm. Robert J. Natter wrote that the Navy was exploring the establishment of an OLF because of community concerns, he was right on the mark. Nor has the Navy ever suggested that noise or encroachment issues did not exist in Virginia Beach or Chesapeake.

Since Adm. Natter’s statement and following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the Navy experienced dramatic changes. Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld dictated a transformation in the way the military operates.

Seeking higher overall readiness levels in anticipation of a long struggle against terrorist threats, the Navy’s plans for operating tempos, emergency response, and training and readiness maintenance changed significantly.

Maintaining higher readiness requires conducting more training. This is the “surge” requirement the Navy has referred to in its EIS documents, and this is one of the drivers of the lack of capacity that has turned an additional OLF from a “nice to have” into a “need to have” facility.

Again, the Navy does not deny that an additional OLF would mitigate — to some extent — noise impacts in Virginia Beach and Chesapeake. The lack of capacity at Fentress, however, makes this additional OLF an absolute requirement.

The combination of consolidating aircraft from two bases (NAS Oceana and NAS Cecil Field) to one (NAS Oceana) and increasing readiness levels has created the need for an additional OLF.

As Clark points out, the Navy did agree to some changes as a result of the 2005 Joint Land Use Study (JLUS). But Mr. Clark’s interpretation of the changes in operations misses the mark.

The Navy changed some of the late night operations at Oceana to reduce community impacts. The Navy did not, as Mr. Clark purports, eliminate late night training. In fact, aircraft training at Fentress must still take off and land at Oceana.

For clarity, the Navy does not routinely conduct field carrier landing practice (FCLP) at NAS Oceana. This did not change with the JLUS. Conducting FCLP at NAS Oceana prevents other vital operations for the master jet base, the design of which included an OLF, NALF Fentress. Use of NAS Oceana is only used as a fallback in situations such as when capacity at Fentress is exceeded or cases such as when Fentress recently was temporarily closed for runway repairs. The problem is this is not a sustainable situation operationally. With Naval Station Norfolk using Fentress as well, the capacity is routinely exceeded at Fentress.

Mr. Clark, I agree that noise and encroachment are issues that must be dealt with. The Navy and the City of Virginia Beach are working hard to address those issues. The City’s BRAC compliance reports can be viewed online to see that the City and Navy are committed to being good neighbors.

Noise and encroachment are not the primary drivers of the Navy’s requirement for an additional OLF. That main driver remains the capacity shortfall that has arisen over the last decade in response to a transformed, more capable, and more responsive Navy.

(Rear Adm. David O. Anderson is vice commander of the U.S. Fleet Forces Command)

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