War Games Planned for East Coast and Local Waters


Live weapons and full sonar will be used in coastal, inland and offshore areas if a proposed Navy war exercise is approved. (Navy images)

The Navy intends to fire missiles, rockets, lasers, grenades and torpedoes, detonate mines and explosive buoys, and use all types of sonar in a series of live war exercises in inland and offshore waters along the East Coast.

In New England, the areas where the weapons and sonar may be deployed encompass the entire coastline, as well as Navy pier-side locations, port transit channels, civilian ports, bays, harbors, airports and inland waterways.

“The Navy must train the way we fight,” according to a promotional video for what is called “Atlantic Fleet Training and Testing Phase III.”

An environmental impact study of the war games was released June 30. Public comment is open until Aug. 29. A public hearing is scheduled for July 19 from 4-8 p.m. at Hotel Providence. Comments can be submitted online and in writing, or through a voice recorder at the hearing.

The dates and exact locations of the live weapon and sonar exercises haven’t yet been released. In all, 2.6 million square miles of land and sea along the Atlantic Coast and Gulf of Mexico will be part of the aerial and underwater weapons firing.

The Navy has designated southern New England as the Boston Operating Area, Narragansett Operating Area and Newport Testing Range.

The Navy describes the weapons exercise as a “major action.” The live ammunition training includes the use of long-range gunnery, mine training, air warfare, amphibious warfare, and anti-submarine warfare. The Navy says weapons use near civilian locations is consistent with training that has been done for decades.

The Navy, in conjunction with the National Marine Fisheries Service, will announce one of three options for the battle exercises by fall 2018. One of the options is a “no-action alternative.”

The Office of the Secretary of the Navy has full authority to approve or deny the live war games. President Trump, however, has had difficulties finding a new Navy secretary. Venture capitalist Richard V. Spencer is expected to face a Senate confirmation hearing this month. Previous nominee Philip Bilden withdrew from consideration in February over financial disclosure requirements.

The Navy says an environmental review for the excises was conducted between 2009 and 2011. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) also prepared an Environmental Impact Statement/Overseas Environmental Impact Statement to analyze the potential environmental effects associated with the use of active sonar technology and the improved extended echo ranging system during Atlantic Fleet training exercises.

The live war games would deploy passive and active sonar systems. The Navy said it will use mid-frequency active acoustic sonar systems to track mines and torpedoes. Air guns, pile driving, transducers, explosive boxes and towed explosive devises may be used offshore and inland.

Risks to sea life include entanglements, vessel strikes, ingesting of harmful materials, hearing loss, physiological stress, and changes in behavior.

The Navy says it is using acoustic modeling done by NOAA to minimize impacts to marine mammals such as whales and porpoises. NOAA, however, isn’t involved with efforts to mitigate environmental impacts during the war games. Spotters on naval vessels will search for mammals during the exercises. The Navy said it will partner with the scientific community to lessen impacts on birds, whales, turtles, fish and reefs.

While some sea life is expected to be harmed by the explosives and sonar, the Navy says it doesn’t expect to threaten an entire population of a species.

Update: Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., a ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has asked the Navy for clarification on the exercises. Reed said there are restrictions in place for these activities but didn’t offer details on those restrictions. He told ecoRI News that he encourages the Navy to be open and transparent about any training plans that may impact the public.


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  1. I am sure the Navy must do this to protect our shores from a direct assault. Any animal hurt during this exercises will sadden me. Any human hurt during this exercise will most likely be because they just don’t pay attention on the water.

  2. This is total horses hit!

    There are places the Navy could find that are not high population areas, not areas with extensive commercial or recreational activity, not areas of high population of sea mammals. As for the danger to wildlife, sonic beams are harmful to sea mammals. Not "to threaten an entire population of a species" is an outrageously low standard of safety. Guess they expect to miss the ones that are vacationing in another area another area!

  3. No No No, unacceptable. The amount of mammals and other sea life will be greatly damaged beyond help. They will be washing up on the beaches for quite awhile. This throws off their sonar tracking so they don’t know where they should be. I don’t recall hearing of this during WWII and they managed just fine keeping those PT boats off our shores. This could also cause eruptions in the ocean such as tidal waves and we already live on a fault line. This is NOT good.

  4. While researching appropriate comments to include through the online comment link given above, I came across this article from 2015:

    Navy agrees to restrict offshore training to protect marine mammals
    "The litigation centered on a disagreement about how many marine mammals might be harmed by the Navy’s training regimen. Mollway ruled that the Navy had vastly underestimated the threat."

    Perhaps ecoRI could also include some helpful primers or info to aid others who wish to submit informed comments? Thanks!

  5. I wonder how much marine life will be killed so they can play with their toys of destruction.

  6. Please help us to know how to support a "NO-ACTION ALTERNATIVE" vote for this review. Our oceans have LIVING CREATURES that will be killed. No one has this right to destroy millions of living beings. The so-called War ‘games" would be massive slaughtering. War is war. Games are games. Please don’t confuse the two.

  7. This article is a little bit misleading by implying that the Navy is planning to conduct a single massive “war games” exercise simultaneously in all of the opareas shown on the map. In fact, they are preparing an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and applying for a permit that both cover all routine training, testing, and other activities across all opareas in the Atlantic for five years (E.g., when was pile-driving included in war games? But it is necessary for replacing a pier or rebuilding a bridge at a naval base.) But any given exercise or activity generally takes place for a short time in a small portion of one area.

    That being said, once again the people making comments are going way off the deep end. If you all had paid closer attention, you would have noticed that the title is “Atlantic Fleet Training and Testing Phase III.” There is nothing new being proposed here. Phase I was 2008–2013, and Phase II will be ending next year, so the Navy is just applying to renew their permit for another 5-year period. All of the activities described have been on-going for the last ten years, as well as for many years before that (although there was much less emphasis on permits and environmental assessments in those days). And we have not seen piles of dead mammals “washing up on the beaches” (maybe they got washed back out to sea by the eruptions and tidal waves while we were all still asleep?).

    Finally, when an EIS says that some animals might be “harmed” by a proposed activity, it does not necessarily mean killed, or even injured. The federal laws involved here—the Endangered Species Act and Marine Mammal Protection Act—have very broad definitions of harm (“take” in the legalese). The Phase II Final EIS included pages and pages of tables tallying the predicted numbers of “takes” of all species of whales, dolphins, seals, and sea turtles from all activities for the five years. The total number of animals of all species combined predicted to be killed by sonar over the entire period was zero, none, not any. Some small numbers of injuries (i.e., deafness) were predicted. The vast majority of predicted takes (hundreds of thousands, to be honest) were short-term behavioral disturbances—basically the same thing as my daughter’s cat hiding under the bed when the neighbors are lighting firecrackers on the Fourth of July. There were some predicted deaths from explosives. The worst would be several hundred dolphins predicted to be killed during a ship-shock trial of a new aircraft carrier (the first ship in each new class is subjected to a series of nearby explosions to make sure it can survive near-misses in real battles). For that reason, all sorts of mitigation actions are undertaken, such as conducting such exercises where populations are lowest, surveys to look for animals in the danger zone, look-outs constantly on watch, halting the test if any animals are seen, and building up from little explosions to the biggest ones to warn away any that aren’t seen.

    One last thing … “no action alternative” does not mean that nothing will happen. It means that nothing will change (stopping something is an “action” under the National Environmental Policy Act), so everything would just proceed the same as at present.

    [Full disclosure—I work with the independent consulting company that is responsible for monitoring the effects of Navy exercises in the Atlantic (and Pacific) on marine species and have probably reviewed every report written during Phase I and Phase II.]

  8. U.S.Navy making our nation stronger,safer,more prepared.
    Any other negative comment is done out of sheer ignorance.

  9. it is time to shut down the navy permanently. The more the US spends on killing, the less safe we are.

  10. Poorly written article as it implies something new – we are talking routine Navy training that has been ongoing for 70 years. Millions of animals will not be "killed," very few in fact (in the dozens perhaps), while sad, pales in comparison to commercial fishing (which kills hundreds of thousands of marine mammals every year). Nearly all of the impacts are behavioral (a whale may move a bit away from an exercise while it’s ongoing, and then return a short while later).

  11. Basically, announcing it endangers our uniformed people, because they are more exposed and more subject to sabotage and enemy action meant to look like accidents. It’s time to train and Operate WITHOUT giving advance notice so every Enemy, Foreign OR DOMESTIC, can cause losses! (That’s You, Greg!)

    • You aren’t paying attention. There is no "it" to announce. This is simply renewing the permits for all training and other operations for five more years (read my longer comment below). Individual exercises are rarely if ever announced, except for those big multi-national joint exercises (generally outside of the normal opareas) that are intended to make potential enemies take notice of alliances and capabilities.

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