Naval Air: October 3, 2003

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: After several years of protests against U.S. military exercises at the Atlantic Fleet Weapons Training Facility's Vieques range, the joint Senate-House Defense Appropriations Conference Committee has agreed on an accelerated timetable for the closure of U.S. Naval Station Roosevelt Roads. If all goes well, the Navy will be gone within the next six months and the Puerto Ricans can decide what to do with the land.

Assorted groups of Leftists had staged violent protests outside the main gate of "Camp Garcia," saying they were sick and tired of the live-fire bombing exercises. Now the Puerto Rican people will have to deal with a gaping hole in their economy. The naval base injected an estimated $300 million a year into the U.S. Caribbean territory's economy. Roosevelt Roads, the largest employer on the island, began laying off some of its 6,300 employees in April. 

Training areas are the last step after simulators, before the sharp edge of America's sword goes into live fire combat zones. Simulators alone can never substitute for that hands-on experience, yet there has been a trend throughout the 1990's to limit their use (either due to political agendas or excessive environmental concerns).

The Navy decided to exploit its other options and now plans to invest more than $400 million in coming years to improve future training by developing its other ranges. The USS Enterprise (currently at sea) is the first aircraft carrier to use a combination of U.S. ranges up and down the east coast for training instead of Vieques. On January 13, ships and aircraft of the USS Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Battle Group began using the Vieques Island inner range in preparation for their missions over Iraq. 

That same month, Navy Secretary Gordon England was satisfied that Navy and Marine Corps training would be adequate without Vieques. England declared the following alternative sites as "equivalent or superior" to Vieques: Pinecastle naval bombing range (near Jacksonville Naval Air Station) and Avon Park Air Force Range (in south-central Florida), Eglin Air Force Base (in Florida's panhandle) and Tyndall Air Force Base, as well as at-sea Navy ranges off the coasts of Key West and Pensacola. 

A "pre-war" Center for Naval Analyses report concluded that a Virginia Capes (VACAPES) complex (including Camp Lejeune, the Cherry Point and Dare County ranges, along with Fort Bragg) was a promising alternative to Vieques. With improvements, the VACAPES complex could become comparable to Vieques in terms of the quality of tactical training it offers, while being superior to Vieques in two important waysit is closer to Norfolk where most Atlantic Fleet forces are stationed and its future is less vulnerable to unfavorable political developments. 

VACAPES one significant shortcoming was that it was not possible to exercise coordinated, tactical strikes and deliver live ordnance in a single training operation. That capability could be made available at Eglin, so between the two complexes all
of the Vieques training operations can be conducted (just not at the same time).
- Adam Geibel

The history of Roosevelt Roads, online at:
http://www.navstarr.navy.mil/Homepage/roosevelt_roads_history_and_fact.htm

Center for Naval Analyses: Alternatives to Vieques
www.cna.org/pdfs/crm105.pdf 

 


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