Military News

Friday, June 27, 2008

Supreme Court to Review Rulings on Navy's Use of Sonar

By Navy Seaman William Selby
Special to American Forces Press Service

June 26, 2008 - The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to review a series of lower court rulings that restrict the
Navy's use of sonar in training exercises off the coast of Southern California, a U.S. military official said June 24. "We welcome the Supreme Court's decision to review the case," Navy Rear Adm. Lawrence S. Rice, director of the Chief of Naval Operations Environmental Readiness Division, said in a teleconference with online journalists and bloggers. "As you know, the Navy's been unhappy with the district courts' series of crippling restrictions that they've given us on the use of mid-frequency active sonar."

The restrictions expand the 200-yard "shutdown zone" that the Navy uses to 2,200 yards, Rice said. "Our 200 yards is based on a number of scientific experiments that were performed on dolphins and belugas out in San Diego," he explained. "The 2,200-yard number that the court is using isn't based on anything."

As a result of a stranding event in the Bahamas in March 2000, Rice said,
Navy officials realized that certain conditions negatively affect beaked whales: steep bathymetry areas such as the continental slopes and sea canyons, the number of vessels operating mid-frequency sonar in the same area over extended periods, limited egress routes and the historical presence of a surface duct, a layer of air in which temperature and humidity changes cause microwave energy originating within the layer to be refracted and trapped along the surface.

The
Navy has spent more than $100 million over the past five years on marine mammal research, Rice said, and has taken 29 measures to ensure the safety of the marine mammals.

"Since we've been employing those protective measures, there have been zero strandings associated with Navy sonar despite a number of attempts [by nongovernmental organizations] to pin them on the
Navy," Rice said. "So the Navy's position is those 29 protective measures are working."

One measure is conducting aerial reconnaissance before large exercises, looking for big whales that might be in the way. "[We] have the ability to adjust that on the fly," the admiral said.

Rice added that the Navy also uses a protective-measures assessment protocol, a planning tool to prevent a stranding incident.

And since 2000, Rice said, the Navy has run a submarine commanders course in the Autec Range in the Bahamas every other month in which sonar is used in the presence of beaked whales. No strandings have been reported, he said.

"All the destroyer, cruiser, and frigate commanding officers will tell you, when they turn sonar on, all the dolphins head their way and start bow surfing," he added. "In the case of beaked whales, lots of times they'll leave the area and as soon as the sonar stops, they'll come back."

Since being sued by the National Resource Defense Council, the
Navy has complied with all the restrictions sanctioned by the courts, Rice said. Now, he said, all the Navy can do is wait on the Supreme Court ruling.

"In the meantime, we'll continue complying with the restrictions that the courts and the 9th District have levied on us," the admiral said.

(
Navy Seaman William Selby works in the New Media directorate of the Defense Media Activity.)

Mullen Offers Encouragement as New Africa Command Takes Shape

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

June 26, 2008 - The top U.S.
military officer challenged the U.S. Africa Command staff today to seize the opportunities presented as they stand up a new, uniquely organized command that brings more focus to a vital part of the world. Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, visited the AfriCom headquarters at Kelley Barracks here to assess progress leading up to Oct. 1, when the command reaches full operational capability.

AfriCom stood up Oct. 1, 2007, but currently operates as a sub-command of U.S. European Command. As it prepares to reach full operational capability, AfriCom's staff is integrating responsibilities and missions previously carried out by EuCom, U.S. Central Command and U.S. Pacific Command.

Mullen told about 400 AfriCom staffers during a town hall meeting today they're laying important groundwork that will have a far-reaching impact on the way the United States engages with the African continent.

"I can't overstate the importance of this command," he told the group. "[You're] laying the groundwork for what will become, 10 or 20 years from now, an institution that has great relevance and great impact."

Fast-forwarding one or two decades, Mullen said, he envisions AfriCom engaging in close, comfortable relationships with African nations the way PaCom and other geographic commands engage today with countries in their operating areas.

In the meantime, Mullen said, AfriCom will bring renewed focus to a region that three regional combatant commands couldn't properly address.

"I believe strongly in the mission," Mullen said after opening up today's session to questions from the audience. "It is certainly due and overdue to have this kind of focus on Africa."

Mullen said he's excited about the work AfriCom is doing and will build on in the future. "This is a huge new mission for us in terms of focusing on a continent that we need to focus on in ways we haven't done in the past," he said. "It's critical that we get it right."

The chairman challenged the group to ensure that happens. "We are relying heavily on you," he said. "You are literally the center of gravity for us as a
military and a government for what's going on in Africa."

Looking out at the audience, a mix of military and civilian employees who reflect the command's unique interagency makeup and the diverse missions it will carry out, Mullen said they're a sign of things to come.

"I think you, in many ways, represent the face of the future with respect that our combatant commands," he said. "You may be leading what we are doing in our government."

Army Gen. William E. "Kip" Ward serves as AfriCom's first commander, with two deputies. Navy Vice Adm. Robert T. Moeller is the deputy for military operations, and Ambassador Mary Carlin Gates, a State Department employee, is the deputy for civil-military activities. The staff includes representatives of the State, Treasury, Justice, Agriculture, Commerce and Justice departments, as well as the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Agency for International Development.

The command structure represents "a much more integrated effort" as the United States increases its engagement with Africa and builds or strengthens relationships across the entire spectrum, Mullen said.

"It's an exciting time standing up a new command," Mullen said, noting the tremendous possibilities it will open up. The work of AfriCom will "make a difference" in the lives of the African people and create opportunities for them that didn't exist in the past, he said.

But Mullen also acknowledged the challenges as well as inconveniences involved in standing up a command able to have that kind of impact. New arrivals at the command are squeezed into temporary workspaces and shuffled from one building to another as old 7th U.S.
Army headquarters facilities that will house them undergo renovation.

Forces of change – common throughout the military – are in hyperdrive here as AfriCom stands up a brand-new command with a new composition and new type of strategic mission. "I can't think of anywhere things are changing more rapidly than here in this command," Mullen said, noting that the phenomenon is likely to continue as AfriCom increases its regional engagements.

Mullen said he's not concerned that the AfriCom headquarters is in Europe, and said the Defense Department has committed to keeping it here for several years. "It is my view that it is much more important to emphasize projects and engagement than it is footprint," he said.

Once countries in the region or with ties to it begin to fully understand AfriCom's focus, Mullen said, he's confident any misconceptions they might have about it will be resolved. For now, it's the newness of the concept that causes some concern, he said.

Mullen emphasized the need to "constantly repeat the message about what the intent is: ... to have an engagement plan for a really vital continent in a way to meet the challenges that are clearly there."

As he toured the makeshift facilities at Kelley Barracks, shaking hands with every staffer he met and presenting his
military coin, Mullen promised that AfriCom will get the funding and personnel it needs to face those challenges.

"We are committed to making sure you have the resources you need to stand up this command," both funding and people, he said. "You just can't move forward without those two. We understand that."

Ward called Mullen's visit a great opportunity to reinforce to his people the importance the Defense Department
leadership places on AfriCom.

"When the admiral comes here and expresses his support for the command, his support for the mission and his efforts in ensuring we get what we need to get this thing started, it just reinforces all the things I've been saying," Ward said.

But Ward said he also hopes the visit will give Mullen a personal perspective of AfriCom, its mission and the dedication of its people that will help him be an advocate for the command as it stands up. He said he purposely steered clear of PowerPoint presentations to give Mullen the opportunity to "meet and talk with the men and women who are doing the work and seeing their commitment to it."

Ward said he shares Mullen's excitement about standing up a new unified command. "It is a once-in-a-lifetime venture that I am very happy to be a part of," he said.

Army Command Sgt. Maj. Mark Ripka said Mullen's visit validates the work under way at AfriCom and assured the staff that they're on the right path.

"I think it was tremendous for all of our people to come together today and listen to our chairman talk about the United States Africa Command how important it is, ... and the value that we will have in sustained security cooperation in the future," he said.

Ripka said he's found the African nations he engages with "very receptive" to strengthening existing relationships or building new ones. It's a slow process that will take time, Ripka said, bute he added that he sees great value in the personal-level interactions AfriCom will advance. "It is all about people and relationships," he said.

Like Ward, Ripka said he's excited by the possibilities as he helps build the new Africa Command from the ground up. "For me it is tremendous," he said. "I wouldn't trade this for the world."