August 9, 2007:
judge has managed to wreck the Pacific Fleet's ASW training in the most
sweeping ruling concerning Navy sonar to date, prohibiting the Navy from using
active sonars through 2009. How has this happened? Simply, put, the Natural
Resources Defense Council filed a suit demanding a halt to the Navy's use of
active medium-frequency sonars. The judge's ruling is a boon to countries that
are acquiring advanced diesel-electric submarines like the Amur/Lada, Type
212/Type 214, and Scorpene.
This is not the first attack
on the Navy's efforts to properly train its sailors in using active sonar. The
2006 RIMPAC exercise dealt with interference due to an injunction that later
resulted in a settlement. Those exercises are one of the rare opportunities the
Navy has to practice against some of the latest diesel-electric submarines with
good crews (Australia, South Korea, and Japan sent such submarines to RIMPAC
Even then, these are advanced
diesel-electric submarines. The Amur/Lada, Type 212/Type 214, and Scorpene have
variants that use fuel cells or other forms of air-independent propulsion.
While diesel engines can be loud enough to permit passive sonar to detect them
soon enough to deal with them before they can fire their torpedoes, fuel cells
are much quieter, and that makes active sonar a necessity. But having the tool
doesn't guarantee success. One has to know how to use the tool. For military
personnel, this often means practicing in conditions that come as close to war
as possible while maintaining a safe environment for the personnel.
The use of active sonar during
these exercises is necessary, not only to train American sonar operators, but
also to train American submariners to deal with countries that use active sonar
(and which don't have to deal with environmental groups suing the government to
ban the use of active sonar). The military lives by the axiom, "you fight
like you train." Realistic training gives the United States military its
biggest advantage over opponents, much as was the case for the Roman army in
ages past (the saying went, "Their drills are bloodless battles, their
battles are bloody drills.") and for the U.S. military, too. Comments
about Desert Storm often compared the experience to the Air Force's Red Flag
exercises or the Army's National Training Center - with the caveat that the
Iraqi forces weren't as tough.
This is an outgrowth from the
success that the NRDC has had in the past in tying up the SURTASS LFA sonar
system. In addition to delaying testing of that system, the lawfare over that
experimental provided a precedent for the present suits against the
medium-frequency systems. Now, the NRDC's lawfare, which has imposed a 29-month
gap in training on the use of active sonar, has the potential to do real harm.
In time of war, sailors will have no practical experience in using the active
sonar on their vessels - or dealing with the use of active sonar by an enemy.
This would be the equivalent
of asking Pierce Brosnan (who narrated a web video for the NRDC on sonar) to do
a 007 movie without being able to rehearse the stunts. Brosnan at least gets
re-takes if he were to mess up. The U.S. Navy will not be as lucky. There are
no re-takes in war, and no way to re-float a sunken ship or to bring back dead
sailors and Marines. - Harold C. Hutchison (firstname.lastname@example.org)