The Navy has owned the Naval Auxiliary Landing Field (NALF), San Clemente Island since 1937, but came into its current importance during the past decade. It is the Navy's only remaining live fire range. San Clemente is the southernmost Channel Island, covering 57 square miles (equating to 37,000 acres). The island is approximately 21 nm long and is 4-1/2 nm across at its widest point. It lies 55 nautical miles (nm) south of Long Beach and 68 nm west of San Diego.
One of the primary military function of San Clemente Island has been to support research and development of many of the Navy's weapon systems. In 1939, the Navy developed the first Landing Craft, Vehicle and Personnel (LCVP) "Higgins Boat" at SCI. This was the beginning of the Naval Amphibious Force, which was one of the key factors in the outcome of WWII. Today SCI's primary function is two fold: (1) to support tactical training of the Pacific Fleet, and (2) to continue as a key research and development facility. SCI provides the Navy and Marine Corps a multi-threat warfare training range. A major part of Navy training takes place on the ranges right off the SCI shores. The primary range covers over 149,000 square miles and is the Navy's busiest Fleet airspace. Also included in this training area are two mine exercise areas, the Southern California Anti-Submarine Warfare Range, seven submarine areas, the shallow water Undersea Training Range, and two laser training ranges. In total, SCI is a very unique combination of airfields, airspace and ranges unlike any other facility owned by the Navy. It is the only location in the Pacific where surface ships, submarines, aircraft and Navy expeditionary forces can train in all warfare areas simultaneously using shore gunnery, bombardment, air defense, anti sub and electronic warfare.
Training on the island has increased 25% since the terrorist attacks of September 2001. The Department of Defense began construction in July 2002 of a $21-million simulated U.S. embassy compound to train troops in rescuing Americans.
Since 1934, the island has been owned and operated by various naval commands. More than a dozen range and operational areas are clustered within a 60 mile radius of the island. The Commander-in-Chief, Naval Forces, Pacific (CINCPACFLT) is the major claimant for the island, and Naval Base Coronado (NBC) is responsible for its administration.
The San Clemente Island Range Complex (SCIRC) is the cornerstone of the tactical training ranges supporting the Southern California Operations Area (SOCAL OPAREA). SOCAL supports the largest concentration of naval forces in the world. The SCI land, air, and sea ranges provide the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps, and other military services space and facilities which they use to conduct readiness training and test and evaluation activities. SCI's distance from the mainland and its complete Navy ownership make the island and its surrounding area ideal for fleet training, weapon and electronics system testing, and research and development activities.
This integrated set of ranges and operational areas covers approximately 2,620 square nautical miles (nm). The SCIRC consists of more than six dozen ranges and operational areas. The extent of these areas range from the ocean floor to an altitude of 80,000 feet.
San Clemente Island has been operated by Navy as a tactical training range and testing area for over 70 years. Tactical training ranges and operational areas provide space and facilities where U.S. military forces can conduct exercises in a safe, controlled environment. The primary purpose of the Complex is to provide readiness training for units and personnel who deploy overseas to meet the national strategy of forward presence and global engagement. Among the evolving needs that precipitated the proposed action are the need for more training in: littoral warfare, including mine counter-measures; electronic warfare; missile firing; operations in the shore bombardment area (SHOBA), amphibious operations; and Naval Special Warfare. Increased need for test and evaluation activities is also anticipated.
began construction. In 1935 the Navy moved civilian workmen out to the prospective naval base to build barracks, roads, and a pier at Wilson Cove. Following commencement of WWII hostilities, the Navy in 1942, accelerated use of the Shore Bombardment Area (SHOBA) at the southern end of the island for fleet training. In 1949 Naval Ordnance Test Station (NOTS), China Lake, began using the island as a test and evaluation range on an occasional basis.
San Clemente Island is home to the San Clemente Island Loggerhead Shrike, which is listed as an endangered species pursuant to the Endangered Species Act. Due in part to successful conservation efforts, the population has grown from 13 to 42 birds in the wild and 64 birds in a captive breeding population at a cost of $2.5 million annually. The Navy's successful stewardship of the Loggerhead Shrike has had a direct impact on training. To protect the Shrike from fires during the seven-month fire season and to comply with the Endangered Species Act, the Navy has decreased one live round impact area by 90 percent and another by 67 percent, reducing the types of missions for which forces can train. The Navy has also eliminated use of illumination rounds and all surface fire support training at night. Moreover, during Shrike breeding season, the shore bombardment range is closed four days a week to permit biologists to surveil the Shrike. As the Shrike population recovers, nesting areas are expanding into the only two fire-impact areas.
To reduce the use of diesel fuel and prevent harmful emissions, the Naval facility on San Clemente Island installed three 225-kilowatt wind turbines. From February 1998 to April 2000, the turbines produced two million kWhs, approximately 13 percent of the island’s total electricity needs. In FY99, the turbines helped the installation decrease consumption of 141,757 gallons of No. 2 diesel fuel, and avoided 18,450 pounds of carbon monoxide emissions. In the future, the turbines should provide 15 percent or more of the island’s electricity, further reducing diesel fuel use and emissions.
San Clemente Island and the waters surrounding the island are used and visited by a variety of organizations, including military, civilian government, contractors, environmentalists, civic organizations, fishing vessels, pleasure craft, and others. Air Resorts has two contracts with the U.S. Navy: F11626-93-D-0032 and F11626-94-D-0018. Under one contract, Air Resorts has operated the non-TCAS equipped CV-440 aircraft from Pt. Mugu Naval Air Weapons Station (NAWS), California to San Nicholas Island Navy Outlying Field (NOLF), California. On the other contract, the aircraft have operated from North Island Naval Air Station (NAS), California to San Clemente Island Naval Auxiliary Landing Field (NALF), California.