Military


SINKEX - Sinking Exercise

Occasionally, the Navy uses unneeded ships as targets for military exercises known as SINKEX or sinking exercises. The Navy has used obsolete ships for sinking exercises or "SINKEX" to train Sailors and test the effect of modern weaponry on ship design. This training is absolutely vital for maintaining the combat readiness of the men and women we send in harm's way.

The transportation of naval ships and craft from the U.S. or from any other location for the purpose of conducting a sinking exercise (SINKEX) concerning tests and evaluations of conventional ammunition and weapons systems is subject to EPA permit requirements. Necessary measures shall be taken to ensure that the vessel sinks to the bottom rapidly and permanently and that marine navigation is not impaired by the sunken vessel. All such vessel sinkings shall be conducted in water of at least 1,000 fathoms (6,000 feet) and at least 50 nm from land, as measured from that portion of the baseline from which any territorial sea is measured (as provided for in the Convention on the Territorial Sea and the Contiguous Zone) that is the closest proximity to the proposed disposal site.

The Navy and the Environmental Protection Agency signed an agreement on August 19, 1996, allowing limited resumption of military ship-sinking exercises (SINKEXs) until the EPA finalizes pending disposal regulations for polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB). The exercises, which entail sinking vessels containing PCBs, were halted pending a final rule. The agreement paves the way for the military to proceed on a limited basis, ending delays that the Navy asserts have impeded fleet readiness training and other operations.

The agreement specified that the Navy must remove certain equipment containing PCBs from vessels before using them for the exercises. The arrangement covers just one of several PCB-related issues the Navy and the EPA have been negotiating for several months. The Navy has expressed concern that pending regulations for PCBs pose an undue burden for the department.

The Navy was allowed to use up to eight vessels for SINKEXs during the time covered by the pact, which remains in effect until the issuance of EPA's final regulations. The rule will create a mechanism whereby the Navy can apply for a permit to continue sinking exercises, according to the EPA. The permit process will include a risk assessment and an opportunity for public input.

The EPA does not expect the limited SINKEXs allowed under the interim agreement to adversely affect the marine environment. The pact states that the Navy may use for SINKEX only those vessels it has prepared by taking several steps, including: removing all transformers containing at least 3 pounds of dielectric fluid and making all attempts to remove items with less than 3 pounds of the fluid, and flushing hydraulic and heat transfer equipment. The Navy is currently conducting a study on the environmental impacts of PCBs in sinking exercises. The agreement stipulates that the Navy will continue "to evaluate the leaching of PCBs under environmental conditions" at SINKEX sites.

By 1999 the Navy had entered into a SINKEX agreement that allowed 16 ships to be sunk in deep water at least 50 miles from shore. In October 1998, the Navy asked EPA to extend that agreement for another 8 ships.

The Ex-USS Okinawa (LPH-3), an amphibious assault ship (helicopter) which served the US Navy for over 30 years, was put to rest off the coast of Southern California as part of a COMSUBPAC ship sinking exercise (SINKEX) in 2002. The ship was sunk by a NUWC Keyport-built Mk 48 Mod 5 ADCAP torpedo fired by USS Portsmouth (SSN 707). Decommissioned in December of 1992, the Ex-USS Okinawa had resided at the Suisan Bay Reserve Fleet in Benicia, CA before being transferred to Naval Inactive Ships Maintenance Facility in Bremerton in August 2000 for SINKEX preparation.

Though the ADCAP torpedo was the weapon that ultimately sank the Ex-Okinawa, it wasn't the only ordnance employed against her that day. Prior to the warshot firing, naval air training operations were conducted involving several Maverick and Harpoon missile firings as well as a number of general-purpose bomb drops. Though the Ex-Okinawa did sustain some minor damage during the air exercises, there was never any sign of her going down prematurely. After the actual torpedo detonation, the Ex-Okinawa, due to its large size (598 feet long, 84 feet wide, 13,000 ton light displacement) and watertight condition, listed increasingly for almost four hours before ultimately descend below the surface.

USS Saipan (LHA 2) participated in a unique exercise with other Standing Naval Force Atlantic (SNFL) ships 12 November 2004, the sinking of ex-Research Vessel Gosport, or SINKEX. Saipan fired live rounds from its gun mounts in an attempt to sink the decommissioned ship about 300 miles off the East Coast of the United States. Members of Saipan's Ship Self-Defense Force (SSDF) team manned 40mm grenade launchers, as well as .50-caliber and 25mm mounted guns. About 50 personnel got a chance to fire the weapons before Saipan moved on to allow other ships to open fire on the target. Personnel fired more than 80 grenades and approximately 1,500 other live rounds before the exercise was concluded. The folks who shot know now that shooting these weapons takes practice. It's not a born skill, it's a learned skill. After Saipan moved out of the firing area, Sailors on other ships got a chance to open fire. Later in the evening, helicopters were scheduled to fire missiles at the target to sink the ship. In the event Gosport remained afloat at the completion of the exercise, Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) personnel were standing by to detonate charges to complete the exercise.

MARAD has taken actions that could result in it disposing of a few of its ships through the Navy's Sinking Exercise (SINKEX) program, which involves sinking ships in deep water for weapons development testing and evaluation and for fleet training exercises. In September 2003, MARAD and the Navy developed a memorandum of agreement to include ships in MARAD's inventory in the Navy's SINKEX program. According to MARAD, as with the other disposal methods, deep-water sinking requires the removal of environmentally hazardous materials from ships before they are sunk. According to MARAD and discussions with the Navy, most of MARAD's high-priority ships do not meet the Navy's needs because of their advanced deterioration. As a result, MARAD considers deep-water sinking a low-volume option even though the estimated costs are lower than scrapping. MARAD has set a goal of disposing of one or two ships a year through this method. However, the one ship that was scheduled, and had been prepared by the Navy for deep-water sinking, had to be withdrawn when it was determined that the ship had historical significance and thus was not suitable for the Navy's program.

There is another way these obsolete Navy vessels may serve in a productive capacity for hundreds of years past their intended use. It's called man-made, "artificial" reefing, which will help promote marine life and fishing and relieve pressures on natural, "coral," reefs.

President Bush's signing of the FY04 National Defense Authorization Bill (HR 1588 Sec 1013) allows appropriate decommissioned ships to be donated for use as artificial reefing. This new artificial reefing authority, quite simply, allows the Navy to accomplish the overall process for cost-effective, donation transfer of available naval vessels. This process also provides a viable alternative available for the Navy's Inactive Ships program under the Naval Sea Systems Command and MARAD (Maritime Administration) under the Department of Transportation to reduce their inventories of unneeded vessels.

"It is indeed good news that the Administration and Congress have given the Navy the authority to donate ships for use as artificial reefs," said Captain Lawrence M. Jones, Jr., Program Manager, Navy Inactive Ships Program Office. The Navy is looking forward to working in cooperation with MARAD to provide an additional practical option for disposing of inactive naval vessels."

The Navy's program objective is to reduce the size of the inactive ships inventory in a cost-effective and environmentally sound manner.

The Navy will accomplish the environmental remediation in accordance with draft EPA Best Management Practices. Other costs will be considered as part of the cost sharing proposals from applicants for the towing and sinking of the ships.

MARAD will coordinate federal agency solicitation and application for obtaining the vessels for use as artificial reefs. The donation and transfer application for all Navy and MARAD available ships for use as artificial reefs may be submitted only by States, Commonwealths, and Territories and possessions of the U.S., municipal corporations or political subdivisions thereof, and foreign countries, except that by Navy policy, foreign applicants are ineligible to apply for and receive obsolete warships, defined as aircraft carriers, battleships, cruisers, destroyers, frigates, and submarines.

The Navy is currently accepting only one application from each State per vessel available for reefing. Additional applications from within a state will still be accepted for other vessels that are solicited.

The first warship offered for donation by the Navy, for sinking as an artificial reef, is the ex-Oriskany (CVA 34).

On 21 June 2005 a B-1B Lancer over the Gulf of Mexico dropped guided cluster weapons on a moving maritime target in support of Sinking Exercise East. SINKEX East was the latest in a series of Air Force Chief of Staff-sponsored maritime interdiction exercises to demonstrate the Air Force's capability to strike targets at sea. The flight was a superb demonstration of the B-1's ability to effectively track and engage maritime targets. The flight was the culmination of a six-month test to evaluate the maritime role of an anti-tank weapon, the Cluster Bomb Unit-105 wind corrected munitions dispenser, Colonel VanDeusen said. The test also evaluated the B-1's use of its moving target radar mode to find, track and successfully target three remotely controlled motor boats on three separate runs prior to releasing two weapons in a single pass.



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