Leadership: Fighting For The Fishes Fails


November 13, 2008:    The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that national defense needs overrule environmental rules, at least when it comes to using active sonar to train sailors to detect enemy submarines. Based on recent experience with Australian and Swedish diesel-electric subs, the U.S. Navy has  developed new anti-submarine tactics and equipment. In secret, obviously. But attempts to test the new anti-submarine techniques have been thwarted by lawsuits. Over the past decade, animal rights groups have succeeded in getting courts to rule that the navy use of their anti-submarine training center near San Diego is illegal, and use of sonar must be limited (because of possible harm to marine animals). The navy keeps fighting the lawsuits, and was faced with the prospect of abandoning the training site, for one somewhere the lawsuits can't reach. The training site is expensive because it is wired, with under water sensors that enable training or test results to be precisely recorded, and changes made to equipment or tactics. The center also enables sonar operators to get realistic training. There is no opportunity to get trained on the job, as mistakes can get your ship quickly sunk.

Meanwhile, potential enemies build more of their cheaper, and higher quality, diesel-electric boats, and train their crews by having them stalk actual warships (including U.S. ones.) The subs are getting more numerous, while U.S. defenses are limping along because of the sheer technical problems of finding quiet diesel-electric boats in coastal waters, and the inability to train and test enough because of lawsuits.

The Supreme Court ruling will slow down, but not stop, the activist lawyers and their lawsuits. This sort of lawfare is a new, largely post-World War II, development. Sonar is not the first time a navy has harmed underwater creatures. Warships have been doing harm to marine life for as long as there have been navies. But priorities change. Now it's fashionable to take up the cause of the marine life, even to the point of crippling national defense.



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