Farallon de Medinilla (FDM)
16° 01' north latitude, 146° 04' east
Environmentalists want the U.S. military to halt bombing on Farallon de Medinilla because they say it endangers wildlife. But officials from nearby Saipan don't want the range to close because it would mean a loss of millions of dollars generated by port visits.
The Farallon de Medinilla Target Range is the Pacific Fleet's only U.S.-controlled range available for live-fire training for forward deployed naval forces. Farallon de Medinilla plays a special and unique role in national defense. Its location provides access frequency that supports established training requirements. In addition, the air and sea space in the Farallon provides sufficient room for the many different attack profiles necessary to replicate training opportunities in the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands [CNMI]. American fighter pilots must maintain capability and proficiency in precision-guided arms and specific target engagement. These are perishable skills that require frequent access to high fidelity, scenario-based targets. Accessibility to the Farallon de Medinilla supports these requirements.
The Farallon de Medinilla, an uninhabited 200-acre island, stands about 280 feet above sea level and its' size is approximately 3 miles by 1/2 mile. The Farallon de Medinilla Target Range is located about 150 miles north of Guam and is leased from the Government of the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands. The range has been used since 1976 under an agreement between the United States and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. Farallon de Mendinilla is classified as public land that is under lease by the US military from the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth of the North Marianas has a lease agreement with the US military that allows use of the island until 2075.
The Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands -- 17 major islands north of Guam -- became a self-governing commonwealth in union with the United States following the termination of the former Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands, which once included the Federated States of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands and Palau. The people of the Northern Marianas are American citizens.
During the peak of Vietnam War operations, ordnance delivered on the island was estimated at 22 tons per month. This consisted primarily of air-dropped, 500 and 750-pound bombs. Also included in the total monthly figure were approximately 60 rounds of three-inch ammunition from ship guns.
Farallon de Medinilla enables forward-deployed airwing and surface units in Japan to conduct two and three unit level training evolutions and one large-scale exercise per year. Without this range, live-fire training would be contingent upon access to non U.S.-controlled ranges and airwing and surface unit readiness would decline to "not ready" status within six months. The range is used about five days each month by the Navy, Marines and Air Force, and provides training opportunities unmatched in the region.
The Navy had wanted to expand activities to include ground based mortar, artillery, and anti-tank training. However, the new training land use proposed cannot he implemented, as personnel are no longer allowed to land or move about on the island due to the presence of highly sensitive, unexploded cluster bombs observed in 1996.
The Navy engaged in gunnery practice during May 1997, and aerial bombardment from July 21 to August 1, 1997, on FDM, CNMI. The purpose of the activity was to allow Navy carrier aircraft and ships to participate in aircraft carrier support training including surface gunnery and bombing practice. Ships assigned to the Seventh Fleet conducted gunnery practice by firing an estimated 200 5/54 live rounds. The ammunition type for the 5/54 was high explosive with controlled variable time fused rounds that produce fragmentation air burst as well as high explosive point detonations. Navy fighter /attack aircraft assigned to the Carrier Air Group practiced delivery of live ordnance, consisting primarily of MK-80 series iron bombs which are designed to explode on impact. A variety of other ordnance were also used. An estimated total of 135 MK-82 live 500 pound (#) bombs, 50 MK-83 live 1000# bombs, 36 MK-84 live 2000# bombs, 180 BDU-4S inert bombs, and 984 MK-76 inert bombs were delivered by aircraft.
Two global power missions successfully deployed to Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, 11 February 1999, demonstrating once again the US Air Force's ability to strike targets across the globe from its home bases. Two B-2 Spirits from Whiteman AFB, Mo., and two B-52s from Minot AFB, N.D., deployed 09 February 1999, flying nearly 20 hours across the international date line to targets at the Farallon de Medinilla Island Bombing Range in the Pacific Ocean. The B-2s dropped live 2,000-pound bombs and the B-52s dropped BDU 44s, which are training bombs. After completing their mission, the aircraft landed at Andersen. The B-2s, which were on the runway for less than an hour while they were refueled and crews were switched, returned to make a second strike at the Farallon bombing range and then flew home to Whiteman. One of the B-52s departed from Andersen to the 1999 Australian International Air Show and the other B-52 will return home to Minot.
The 93rd Bomb Squadron deployed to Anderson AFB, Guam, in April 1999 to participate in exercise Tandem Thrust 99. The primary mission was to provide friendly and enemy air support for the US Navy. They deployed two aircraft and 102 personnel to train US and Australian defense force staffs in crisis action planning and execution for contingency operations whether at sea, in the air, or ashore. B-52's dropped bombs on Farallon de Medinilla. Over 500 M117's were dropped by the B-52s. Each day the
aircraft were loaded internally and externally with the 750 pound bombs to be dropped 3000 feet over Farallon de Medinilla.
The island is an important nesting site for more than a dozen species of migratory birds, including some that are endangered. Farallon de Medinilla hosts colonies of great frigatebirds; masked, red-footed, and brown boobys; red- and white-tailed tropicbirds; white and sooty terns; brown and black noddys; and other species of migratory seabirds. The island is the largest known nesting site for masked boobies in the Mariana and Caroline Islands.
The 1918 Migratory Bird Treaty Act prohibits harm to migratory species without a permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. In 1996 The Navy asked the Service for a permit to use the island as a range, but was refused. The Navy continued to use the range, saying the treaty did not apply to federal agencies. Fish and Wildlife surveys have shown that birds are being killed when the military hits island with bombs, missiles, rockets, naval guns and other weapons. The Navy has said targets are placed away from primary bird habitat, and the Navy is budgeting $100,000 annually to enhance bird habitats on neighboring islands. The Navy has participated in two environmental impact studies, in 1975 and 1999, regarding military activities on the island.
The Pacific Fleet's ability to conduct training on Farallon de Medinilla is subject to litigation brought by an environmental group seeking to stop live-fire training on the grounds that some migratory, but not necessarily endangered or threatened, birds are harmed in violation of the 1918 Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund, formerly the Sierra Club, argued the lawsuit on behalf of the Center for Biological Diversity, a nonprofit New Mexico corporation. The suit claims the Migratory Bird Treaty Act applies to the Navy and Defense Department and its use of the range. This lawsuit was filed on 21 December 2000 by the Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund in Washington, following a decision by Federal Court in the District of Columbia which declined to follow precedent and applied the 85-year-old act to Federal agencies.