PROPOSED ACTION

BACKGROUND

Commissioned in 1942 as part of Naval Air Station (NAS) Whidbey Island, Ault Field is the only Naval air station in the Pacific Northwest. It has supported Naval aviation for more than 70 years and served as the primary home base location for the Navy’s Electronic Warfare community for more than 45 years. Ault Field and the Seaplane Base were identified as ideal locations for rearming and refueling Navy patrol planes and other tactical aircraft operating in defense of Puget Sound during World War II; Outlying Landing Field (OLF) Coupeville became operational in 1943 to support practice approaches/landings and emergency landings. Over a period of more than 40 years, Ault Field has evolved into the Navy’s home for its electronic attack aircraft. OLF Coupeville, an integral part of operations at Ault Field, provides the most realistic training for field carrier landing practice (FCLP), as well as training for search-and-rescue and parachute operations. The Navy has continuously used OLF Coupeville for FCLP since the late 1960s.

Ault Field is the home base location of the Navy’s entire tactical Electronic Attack community in the U.S., including all Growler squadrons, and provides facilities and support services for nine carrier squadrons, three expeditionary squadrons, one expeditionary reserve squadron, one training squadron, and an electronic attack weapons school. The carrier and expeditionary squadrons have similar missions but differ in where they deploy and how they train before deployment.

Three types of Growler squadrons support the Airborne Electronic Attack mission for the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD):

  • carrier squadrons deploy on aircraft carriers and conduct periodic FCLP to requalify to land on aircraft carriers
  • expeditionary squadrons, including the reserve squadron, deploy to overseas land-based locations and therefore do not normally require periodic FCLP prior to deployment
  • the training squadron, which is also known as the Fleet Replacement Squadron, or FRS, is the training squadron responsible for “post-graduate” training of newly designated Navy pilots and Naval Flight Officers, those returning to flight after non-flying assignments, or those transitioning to new aircraft for duty in the Fleet. The training squadron is the “schoolhouse” where pilots receive their initial FCLP, and it fosters professional standardization and a sense of community.

Electronic warfare has played a key role in combat operations since first being introduced during World War II, and its importance continues to grow as potential adversaries invest in modern threat systems. The mission of the Navy’s Growler aircraft is to suppress enemy air defenses and communications systems. Additionally, Navy Growlers disrupt land-based threats in order to protect the lives of U.S. ground forces. The Secretary of Defense directed that the tactical Airborne Electronic Attack mission is the exclusive responsibility of the Navy. As a result, the Navy is the only U.S. military service to maintain a tactical airborne electronic attack capability and is required to preserve and cultivate the expertise and knowledge of the Growler community.

In June 2013, the U.S. DoD Appropriations Act of 2014 added additional Growler aircraft and the necessary funding to augment the Growler community. Therefore, on September 5, 2013, the Navy announced the preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to evaluate the potential environmental effects associated with the potential introduction of two additional Growler expeditionary squadrons (13 aircraft).

In spring 2014, the Navy assessed that it would need additional Growlers in order to address current and future threats, and submitted a request to Congress to purchase additional Growlers. At that time, it was unclear whether Congress would authorize the purchase of additional Growlers. Nonetheless, since there was a possibility that additional Growler aircraft could be purchased in the future, the Navy elected to revise the scope for the EIS effort in order to be transparent with the public as to future possibilities. The revised scope for the EIS was announced in October 2014. Subsequently, Congress authorized the purchase of additional Growler aircraft in 2015 and 2016.

Please go to the Current EIS Documents page to download a copy of the Draft EIS.

PROPOSED ACTION

The U.S. Department of the Navy (Navy) proposes to:

  • continue and expand existing EA-18G Growler operations at the NAS Whidbey Island complex, which includes FCLP by Growler aircraft that occurs at Ault Field and OLF Coupeville
  • increase electronic attack capabilities by adding 35 or 36 aircraft to support an expanded DoD mission for identifying, tracking, and targeting in a complex electronic warfare environment
  • construct and renovate facilities at Ault Field to accommodate additional Growler aircraft
  • station additional personnel and their family members at the NAS Whidbey Island complex and in the surrounding community.

The EIS evaluates the potential direct, indirect, and cumulative environmental impacts of the Proposed Action under three action alternatives (summarized below). After completion of the EIS process and issuance of a Record of Decision (ROD), construction of new and improved facilities could begin as early as 2018. Personnel and aircraft would arrive incrementally, as aircraft are delivered by the manufacturer, personnel are trained, and families relocate to the area, until the action is complete.

ALTERNATIVES

The Draft EIS analyzes the impacts of multiple alternatives for operating the Growler aircraft inventory out of the NAS Whidbey Island complex. The alternatives include variations of the following factors:
      1. Number of aircraft assigned per squadron
      2. Number of expeditionary squadrons
      3. Number of personnel
      4. Distribution of aircraft operations at Ault Field and OLF Coupeville

OPERATIONAL SCENARIOS

The Draft EIS evaluates three operational scenarios for each of the three action alternatives, resulting in a total of nine alternatives analyzed. The operational scenarios are based on the distribution of FCLP operations between Ault Field and OLF Coupeville:

  • Scenario A – 20 percent of all FCLPs conducted at Ault Field and 80 percent of all FCLPs conducted at OLF Coupeville
  • Scenario B – 50 percent of all FCLPs conducted at Ault Field and 50 percent of all FCLPs conducted at OLF Coupeville
  • Scenario C – 80 percent of all FCLPs conducted at Ault Field and 20 percent of all FCLPs conducted at OLF Coupeville
  • Scenario D - 30 percent of all FCLPs conducted at Ault Field and 70 percent of all FCLPs conducted at OLF Coupeville
  • Scenario E - 70 percent of all FCLPs conducted at Ault Field and 30 percent of all FCLPs conducted at OLF Coupeville

In developing the range of alternatives, the Navy carefully reviewed important considerations unique to the Growler community and Navy aviation training in addition to considering public comments received during scoping. These considerations include the fact that all of the Navy’s Electronic Attack mission and training facilities are located at the NAS Whidbey Island complex, including substantial infrastructure and training ranges that have been developed in over 40 years of operation; the location of suitable airfields that provide for the most realistic training environment; distance aircraft would have to travel to accomplish training; and the expense of duplicating existing capabilities elsewhere. Alternatives presented earlier in the scoping process analyzing fewer additional aircraft than 35 were not carried forward because Congress has authorized the purchase of more aircraft than were reflected in those earlier alternatives. Growler operations will increase under all alternatives analyzed in this Draft EIS. This increase will result in a total number of annual operations at the NAS Whidbey Island complex that is similar to the number of operations seen in the mid-1990s.

NO ACTION ALTERNATIVE

The Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) regulations (40 Code of Federal Regulations 1502.14[d]) require an EIS to evaluate the No Action Alternative. The No Action Alternative provides a benchmark that typically enables decision makers to compare the magnitude of potential environmental effects of the proposed alternatives with conditions in the affected environment.

Under the No Action Alternative, the Proposed Action would not occur; this means the Navy would not operate additional Growler aircraft and would not add additional personnel at Ault Field, and no construction associated with the Proposed Action would occur. The No Action Alternative would not meet the purpose of or need for the Proposed Action; however, the conditions associated with the No Action Alternative serve as reference points for describing and quantifying the potential impacts associated with the proposed alternatives. For this EIS, the Navy analyzes 2021 as the representative year for the No Action Alternative because it represents conditions when events at Ault Field for aircraft loading, facility and infrastructure assets, personnel levels, and number of aircraft unrelated to the Growler Proposed Action are expected to be fully implemented and complete. This would represent a more accurate representation of baseline conditions that will exist at NAS Whidbey Island while this Proposed Action is implemented. Therefore, with these other actions complete, the analysis isolates the impacts of this Proposed Action of adding additional Growler aircraft and personnel and associated construction. Conditions that are evaluated as implemented and fully complete prior to 2021 include the following:

  • the P-3C Orion/EP-3 aircraft will be retired from the Navy in 2021
  • six P-8A Poseidon squadrons will be home based at Ault Field by 2020
  • projected volumes of transient and other aircraft utilizing Ault Field in 2021 are based on current and historical volumes of these aircraft.

PREFERRED ALTERNATIVE

The Navy has identified a preferred alternative in the Final EIS. Alternative 2A has been identified as the preferred alternative. This alternative establishes two new expeditionary squadrons, and adds two aircraft to each squadron that operates off aircraft carriers. This alternative adds 36 aircraft at NAS Whidbey Island. Additionally, this plan calls for nine total carrier squadrons and five expeditionary squadrons.

Under Alternative 2A, Ault Field will support four times the number of total aircraft operations when compared to OLF Coupeville – specifically 88,000 total operations would occur at Ault Field, with 24,100 at OLF Coupeville; 23,700 of those operations at OLF Coupeville would be FCLP flown by EA-18G Growlers. Since airfield operations are defined as either a takeoff or landing, under this scenario about 12,000 FCLP passes would occur annually at OLF Coupeville.

The operational numbers in the preferred alternative incorporate additional analysis of changes to Navy training that will reduce impacts to local communities. The reductions the Navy studied were based on two factors: the number of pilots needing training and a reduced FCLP requirement due to Precision Landing Mode, formerly known as MAGIC CARPET. Both of these factors decreased overall FCLP requirements from 42,000 presented in the Draft EIS to 29,600 annually – a 30% reduction under the preferred alternative.

No final decision has been made. The Navy thoroughly analyzed fifteen options with respect to force structure and FCLP distribution. The final decision will be made by the Secretary of the Navy (or his designee) and announced in a Record of Decision, no earlier than 30 days after the release of the Final EIS. The Navy expects the Final EIS to be released in the late summer to early fall timeframe.

After a Record of Decision is announced, the Navy will update the 2005 AICUZ based on the Final EIS analysis and provide official recommendations for land-use.

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