Electronic Warfare Training in the Pacific Northwest

The Truth about Electronic Warfare Training

There has been a great deal of false and misleading information spread through the media and certain interest groups regarding the Navy’s ongoing electronic warfare training in the Northwest. Factual information about the Navy’s plans for electronic warfare training is provided in a detailed Environmental Impact Statement (2010) and an Environmental Assessment (2014). The information provided below is meant to address some of the false and misleading information that have been circulating.

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Q: Is the Navy expanding into more areas of Washington State?

A: The proposed Electronic Warfare Range (EWR) enhancements do not introduce new flight areas and will not change the way the Navy currently flies in the skies over Washington State. The plan only introduces the use of mobile and fixed transmitters to enhance already-occurring training. These enhancements will improve the fidelity of training Navy aircrews are already conducting daily. The specific training these transmitters provide enable aircrew to develop the skills necessary to safely and successfully counter enemy defenses when they fly into harm’s way. The enhancements simply improve the quality and efficiency of that training.

The Navy has been operating regularly in the Pacific Northwest since 1841. Some bases and a shipyard were operating in Puget Sound by the 1890s. With the exception of Naval Station Everett, all of the Navy installations in existence today in Puget Sound were established during World War II or earlier.

While the number of aircraft and flights can fluctuate from year-to-year, the overall number of aircraft stationed at Naval Air Station (NAS) Whidbey Island and subsequent aircraft operations have dropped dramatically over the past three decades largely because of the retirement of the A-6E Intruder aircraft.

As a comparison, from 1988 to 1994, flight operations managed by the base totaled more than 265,000 annually, while the average from 2008 to 2014 was just over 161,000 per year.

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Q: Is the Navy planning to turn the National Forests and National Parks into a war training zone?

A: The Navy has not proposed any significant changes to the way aircrew train in the Pacific Northwest now. The Navy has been training in the Olympic, Okanogan and Roosevelt Military Operations Areas for decades and will continue to do so. The Navy plans to enhance existing training by adding one fixed transmitter at Pacific Beach and three mobile transmitter vehicles that will operate on existing logging roads and pull-out areas on U.S. Forest Service land. The Navy has not proposed to use National Park Service land.

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Q: Is the Navy planning to conduct war games in which its systems would “jam” civilian communications systems?

A: There are no “war games” planned. The only change is the addition of one fixed and three mobile transmitters to improve training quality. These Electronic Warfare Range training enhancements only involve aircraft receiving signals from the transmitters, and the power output of the transmitters is comparable to that of a TV news van or navigation radars found on many recreational boats. The mobile and fixed transmitters have gone through a thorough, multi-agency approval process, including review by the Federal Communications Commission, to ensure that the transmitters will not interfere with other broadcast signals, such as emergency response networks, radio, cellphones or other communications systems.

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Q:  Will people and wildlife will be harmed by electronic warfare training?

A:  The introduction of one fixed and three mobile signal transmitters to enhance existing training will not harm people, animals, or the environment. The Navy has decades of experience building and operating signal equipment, with no adverse effects to people, animals, or the environment.

These types of signals are a part of our modern society and are all around us every day. The frequencies of the mobile transmitters are similar to cellular phones and Bluetooth technology, and the power output of the transmitters is comparable to that of a TV news van or navigation radars found on many recreational boats. Moreover, the Navy’s intermittent transmissions will only occur for short periods of time at irregular intervals. To provide some context, there are already numerous permanent commercial systems (weather and air traffic control radars, cellular phone towers and radio/TV broadcast antenna) all over Washington State, including the Olympic Peninsula, which have much higher power outputs and transmit continuously.

The Navy subscribes to and complies with authoritative scientific research, industry standards, and government regulations pertaining to the operation and use of this type of equipment. In an abundance of caution, the Navy has added protective measures to even further reduce any potential for humans or animals to be near the equipment when in operation.

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Q: Is it true that the mobile transmitters are very dangerous because they emit radiation?

A: The introduction of one fixed and three mobile transmitters to enhance existing training will not harm people, animals, or the environment. The Navy’s Pacific Northwest Electronic Warfare Range (EWR) Environmental Assessment properly referenced and discussed “electromagnetic radiation.”  “Electromagnetic radiation” is a general term used to describe energy output for all kinds of electronic devices. Electromagnetic radiation is simply electronic energy; it is not the same thing as nuclear radiation. There is no nuclear radiation associated with the Navy’s transmitters or this training. The mobile transmitters are similar to a television news satellite truck. Signals will be directed skyward using frequencies that are similar to those used for some satellite communications, Wi-Fi devices, cordless phones, Bluetooth devices, weather radar systems and marine radar used on residential boats. This makes the training challenging for aircrew, because they have to detect and identify the transmitter signal among all the other similar existing electronic signals that are present around us.

The Navy uses the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) “Standard for Safety Levels with Respect to Human Exposure to Radio Frequency Electromagnetic Fields, 3 kHz to 300 GHz,” to make its determinations. The IEEE standard serves as a consensus standard developed by representatives of industry, government agencies, the scientific community and the public. This type of training has been occurring across the country for decades with no adverse effects to the environment, humans or wildlife.

These training enhancements do not involve the use of weapons or jamming from the aircraft. The fixed and mobile transmitters only send signals to the aircraft; they do not receive signals.

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Q: Is the Navy really planning to bring that many more planes to Washington State military training areas?

A: Electronic warfare training is already being conducted in the Olympic Military Operations Areas (MOAs). The Navy has estimated that a 10 percent increase in the current averages for number of flights may occur related to electronic warfare training activities, which amounts to less than one additional flight per day.

In a separate environmental planning project for EA-18G airfield operations at Naval Air Station (NAS) Whidbey Island and Outlying Landing Field (OLF) Coupeville, the Navy proposed to home base up to 36 additional EA-18G aircraft at NAS Whidbey Island. The EIS was completed in 2019 with public input. This home basing EIS focuses on aircraft operations in and around the airfield and facility needs; it does not include any increased training requirements. For more information, please visit the project website at www.whidbeyeis.com.

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Q: Will the Navy be flying at low altitudes and at supersonic speeds?

A: Electronic warfare training is not conducted at low altitude and is not conducted at supersonic speeds. To conduct the training properly, aircraft operate at 10,000 feet above average sea level or higher. Supersonic flight above the United States is tightly controlled by the Federal Aviation Administration.

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Q: Will the Navy be generating a lot more noise throughout Washington State because of a great increase in number of flights that will occur over the Olympic Peninsula?

A: The Navy has estimated that a 10 percent increase in the current averages for flight numbers may occur related to electronic warfare training activities, which amounts to less than one additional flight per day. The type and manner of flight operations will not change as a result of the introduction of a single fixed transmitter and three mobile transmitters to support electronic warfare range training; therefore, there will be no change in noise.

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Q: The Navy already said they are doing electronic warfare training at other locations, so why can’t they just relocate this training elsewhere? Will bringing the training to Washington State really save the taxpayer any money or is it just a matter of convenience?

A: The airspace in the Pacific Northwest is relatively uncongested compared to other areas, and the varied, mountainous terrain provides a high-quality, realistic training environment for aircrews. The weather patterns in the Northwest and temperate climate allow year-round flying. The proximity to coastal regions as well as existing military training routes and special use airspace areas makes for shorter transit times, more efficient training, and reduced wear and tear on the aircraft and beneficial cost savings, which translates to taxpayer savings. There are other high-quality training areas in the United States that are used for other types of military training, yet none that have enough available airspace time and are in proximity to the units stationed at Naval Air Station (NAS) Whidbey Island.

Currently, electronic attack aircraft crews home-based at NAS Whidbey Island must transit to distant ranges to obtain realistic training. The addition of a fixed transmitter at Pacific Beach and up to three mobile transmitter vehicles will allow aircrew to train more effectively closer to NAS Whidbey Island, resulting in substantial savings (about $4.6 million a year) to taxpayers through savings in fuel costs and more efficient use of the aircraft, including savings of time previously lost during transits and increased airframe service life.

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Q: Is it true that the Navy pilots could easily get all of their training done using high-tech simulators instead of flying?

A:  While the Navy uses simulators in many kinds of training, all simulators have limitations. Naval Air Station Whidbey Island aircrews train in simulators; however, aircrews also need to conduct realistic training in the aircraft to ensure they are fully prepared for diverse real-world situations they may encounter.

Naval forces must be ready to respond to a wide range of situations, from large-scale conflict, homeland defense, and anti-piracy operations to humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. Navy personnel must train to maintain the highest levels of readiness and capability to protect our nation, allies, and interests.

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Q: Is the Navy not complying with the National Environmental Policy Act? It iseems misleadingly splitting up all of their analyses instead of doing a comprehensive, all-inclusive study for all Navy actions in the Northwest.

A: The Navy prides itself on being a good steward of the environment and complies with all laws, regulations and requirements, including the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).  The Navy prepares Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) and Environmental Assessments (EA) in order to comply with NEPA. These NEPA documents are intended to ensure decision makers consider the potential environmental effects of a proposed action and its alternatives, provide an opportunity for public involvement, and promote transparency by informing the public of potential environmental effects. Each NEPA document addresses a specific proposed action, separated from other actions by its purpose and need, independent utility, timing and geographic location. Every environmental document considers the cumulative impacts to the environment from other relevant past, present and reasonably foreseeable future actions (federal, state, local and private) in addition to the proposed action.

The initial concept to improve ongoing electronic warfare training was first analyzed in the Northwest Training Range Complex Environmental Impact Statement, completed in 2010, along with other ongoing Navy training. When more information and technology became available regarding the signal transmitters, the Navy prepared the Environmental Assessment for placement and use of the transmitters.

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Q: Why didn’t the Navy provide any information to the public about their plans to enhance electronic warfare training?

A:  The Navy made a sincere effort to publicize the Pacific Northwest Electronic Warfare Range Environmental Assessment (EA). The availability of the draft EA and the 15-day public comment period were advertised in The Seattle Times, The Daily World, The Olympian and The Montesano Vidette; five Native American tribes were notified by letter; and postcards were sent to more than 140 people and organizations that had expressed an interest in the Northwest Training Range Complex Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), which was completed with public input in 2010. Additionally, copies of the draft EA were made available at six public libraries; and fliers about the project were distributed to the Pacific Beach Community Center and 20 local post offices.

In addition to notifications made for the EA, the Navy agreed to participate in various meetings that were open to the public at the request of local and federal government officials, in Forks, Okanogan, Port Angeles, Pacific Beach and Colville. Navy personnel have also been answering questions from the public, governmental and community organizations and news media representatives.

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Q: Why didn’t the Navy analyze aircraft noise in the Pacific Northwest Electronic Warfare Range Environmental Assessment?

A:  The Electronic Warfare Range Environmental Assessment (EA) specifically analyzed potential impacts posed by adding land-based enhancements to training that is already occurring in the Olympic MOAs and at-sea airspace. The EA was tiered off of the Northwest Training Range Complex Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), meaning it was an extension of the EIS analysis and provided an analysis of the additional, land-based actions.  The original EIS included an analysis of aircraft noise impacts.  

The Navy has estimated that a 10 percent increase in the current averages for flight numbers may occur related to electronic warfare training activities, which averages less than one additional flight per day. The type and manner of flight operations will not change as a result of the introduction of a single fixed transmitter and three mobile transmitters to support electronic warfare range training; therefore, no change in noise is expected.  The on-going Northwest Training and Testing EIS, which is currently being completed, will analyze proposed training and testing activities, including aircraft training in the Olympic Military Operations Areas and at-sea airspace, and that updated analysis will include a noise assessment.

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Q: Why didn’t the Navy didn’t include their estimated 10% increase in number of electronic warfare training flights in the Pacific Northwest Electronic Warfare Range Environmental Assessment?

A:  The Navy completed the Northwest Training Range Complex EIS in 2010 and specifically addressed the potential impacts associated with Electronic Warfare training flights in the Northwest. The Electronic Warfare Range Environmental Assessment (EA) was then tiered off of the NWTRC EIS to provide analysis of the addition of ground-based signal transmitters to existing training flights already analyzed in the 2010 EIS.

The Navy has estimated that a 10 percent increase in the current averages for number of flights may occur related to electronic warfare training activities, which averages less than one additional flight per day. That estimated future training increase is being analyzed in the on-going Northwest Training and Testing EIS that was initiated in February 2012.

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Q: The Navy says that there will be 2,900 flights, which is more than a 10% increase from the 1,250 annual flights in the Olympic Military Operations Areas. Does that mean it will increase even more if 36 additional Growler aircraft is allowed to be stationed at Whidbey Island?

A:  Electronic Warfare (EW) training and EW Range enhancements were analyzed in the Navy’s Northwest Training Range Complex (NWTRC) EIS, completed in 2010. As the Navy explained in that document, the number of EW training “events” is not the same as the number of “flights.” The bottom line is that multiple training events can be accomplished on a single flight.

In 2014, when more information became available on mobile and fixed signal transmitters for the EW Range, the Navy prepared the Pacific Northwest EW Range EA to analyze placement and operation of those transmitters. As the EW Range EA states, 2,900 is the number of training events that the transmitters will support, not the number of flights. With the addition of the land-based transmitters, the quality of existing training is improved and more training events can be conducted during each flight.

To help you better understand the difference between training events and flights: consider what you do when you are driving an automobile. As a safe and efficient driver, you must complete many skills in one drive. Each skill you perform is the same as one training event. For example, let’s say you back out of a parking space, brake, accelerate, use your turn signal, pass other cars, make a turn, change lanes, navigate a four-way stop, and parallel park -- you’ve just completed nine training events in one drive.

The Navy has estimated that a 10 percent increase in the current averages for number of flights may occur related to electronic warfare training activities, which averages less than one additional flight per day. That estimated future training increase is being analyzed in the on-going Northwest Training and Testing EIS that was initiated in February 2012.

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Q: Is it true that since there has been a lot of opposition to Electronic Warfare training and requests for an EIS, the Navy should do an EIS for it?

A:  The Navy completed the Northwest Training Range Complex EIS in 2010 that specifically addressed the potential impacts associated with Electronic Warfare training flights in the Northwest.  The Electronic Warfare Range Environmental Assessment (EA) was then tiered off of the NWTRC EIS provide analysis of the addition of ground-based signal transmitters to existing training flights already analyzed in the 2010 EIS. Tiering a project-specific EA from a larger EIS is an authorized and encouraged practice pursuant to NEPA regulations.  The Navy has estimated that a 10 percent increase in the current averages for number of flights may occur related to electronic warfare training activities, which averages less than one additional flight per day. That estimated future training increase is being analyzed in the on-going Northwest Training and Testing EIS that was initiated in February 2012.

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Q: Is it true that It only takes the Navy Growlers 20 minutes at their top speed to fly from Naval Air Station Whidbey Island to Mountain Home Air Force Base to do their training so moving the training closer to Whidbey Island is really not saving the taxpayers any money?

A:  Mountain Home Air Force Base in Idaho is 491 miles from Naval Air Station (NAS) Whidbey Island. The Olympic Military Operations Area is 74 miles from Naval Air Station (NAS) Whidbey Island.  Conducting training closer to where the aircraft are based will reduce fuel costs and reduce wear on the aircraft. This will save the government and taxpayers about $5 million each year.

A typical flight from NAS Whidbey Island to Mountain Home AFB takes 50-60 minutes depending on wind and air traffic control delays. The EA-18G Growler aircrews do not fly the aircraft near its top speed as they transit between the two bases, but rather, around 450 mph, which is close to the typical average speed at which other long-distance commercial aircraft fly. At that speed, the aircraft will use approximately 6,000-6,500 pounds of fuel in 50-60 minutes of flight. Based on that fuel usage, the aircraft will only be able to conduct training at the Mountain Home Range for about 30-45 minutes. The aircraft then needs to refuel, which takes anywhere from 1.5 to 2 hours before returning to NAS Whidbey Island. 

 

Video: Electronic Warfare Training in the Pacific Northwest

Electronic Warfare Training in the Pacific Northwest

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