Naval Air Station (NAS) Oceana
In 1940, the Navy acquired the land that would eventually become Naval Air Station (NAS) Oceana. At that time, the surrounding area was mainly farmland. Airspace and facility restrictions preclude NAS Norfolk from serving as the home station for tactical air units, and in the 1950s NAS Oceana was expanded to Master Jet Base status to serve that purpose. NAS Oceana has grown to become one of the largest and most advanced air stations in the world, comprising 6,820 acres (including Dam Neck Annex). Obstruction clearances and flight easements total an additional 3,680 acres. Its four runways-three measuring 8,000 feet in length and one measuring 12,000 feet-are designed for high-performance aircraft. NAS Oceana's primary mission is to train and deploy the Navy's fighter/attack squadron-the F-14 Tomcats and the F/A-18 Hornets. Two H-3 Sea King helicopters also are assigned to NAS Oceana for search-and-rescue duties. Pilots stationed at NAS Oceana fly approximately 219,000 training operations each year.
Both Naval Auxiliary Landing Field (NALF) Fentress in Chesapeake, VA and Naval Station (NS) Norfolk Chambers Field in Norfolk, VA are under the command of NAS Oceana. The Navy Dare County Range located in North Carolina is also under NAS Oceana's command. This facility has hosted naval fighter and attack squadrons for nearly fifty years. In the early 1990s the base hosted the Grumman F-14 Tomcat fighter and A-6 Intruder attack aircraft. The Intruder has since left the inventory, and the Tomcat is slated for retirement over the next decade. However, Oceana has retained its role as the primary East Coast home for these missions, accepting eight fleet squadrons and one Fleet Replacement Squadron (FRS) of F/A-18 Hornets in response to basing decisions and BRAC direction. Apparently mindful of the recent BRAC decisions to close some key naval aviation installations, some members of the Virginia Beach community strongly lobbied to have the Hornet assigned to Oceana; however, the aircraft has received a mixed reception. Despite a lower level of assigned aircraft and airfield operations than occurred at Oceana in the mid-1980s, the noise impacts of the F/A-18 have led to considerably more community dissatisfaction than encountered earlier. This apparent contradiction can be explained by a number of factors: Virginia Beach is a much more diverse community and relatively less dependent on the Navy economy than it was two decades ago; the community has grown rapidly, in some cases unwisely, around the base, particularly during the "down years" prior to the Hornets' arrival; and the F/A-18 is perceived as noisier than other aircraft stationed at Oceana in past years.
Increases in base loading at Oceana as the result of BRAC decisions, following the reduction of flying activity during the phase out of the A-6, has resulted in a dramatic increase in noise complaints in the Tidewater area of Virginia. This increase in complaints can be attributed, at least in part, to the increased operational and noise footprint of the F/A-18, when compared with the A-6 and even the F-14 Tomcat. The competition for access to overland airspace in close proximity to the Norfolk area is expected to increase. This competition can be traced to the lack of training airspace in the immediate area, the relatively short operating range of the Hornet and a projected increase in the basing of high performance Air Force aircraft at Langley AFB.
Over the modern battlefield, an increasing percentage of operations are conducted at night. Night flying is an integral part of an aviator's training program. In particular, night Field Carrier Landing Practice (FCLP) - the simulated carrier landing practice conducted at Chambers Field, NALF Fentress and NAS Oceana - is crucial training for maintaining the proficiency of aircrews. To be effective, night flight training must occur in sufficient conditions of darkness, which necessitates later hours of operations during summer months, when sunset occurs after 8:30 p.m. This situation may be aggravated, such as when operations pick up prior to carrier deployment, resulting in a higher number of scheduled night operations.
A lawsuit is currently being pursued by a group of Virginia Beach residents, charging that the Navy's noise analysis prepared in support of the F/A-18 rebasing decision was inadequate and misleading. The parties have stated that they do not want the aircraft removed from Oceana, but there is the potential for some restriction to be imposed on operations that could severely diminish the base's potential to host future systems.
The Navy is taking a proactive stance in noise management at Oceana. A comprehensive web site portrays AICUZ noise and Accident Prevention Zone (APZ) contours for all three Navy airfields in the area, along with explanations of the mitigating actions being undertaken by the base. Two of the actions, construction of an engine test enclosure ("hush house") at Oceana and installation of a TACAN 26 at NALF Fentress, involved substantial investment. Other actions include modifications to traffic patterns and limitations on flight activities during nighttime (2300-0700 local) at all three installations.
Naval pilots are required to comply with noise abatement procedures. Procedures used to reduce noise upon takeoff include securing afterburners no later than the airfield boundary and climbing rapidly on departure, taking the noise away from the community. Flight crews are periodically briefed on the existing patterns and the need to maintain the published patterns. Night operations are limited to those that are necessary and essential.
Perhaps the overriding concern for this area is the potential for separate and inadequately coordinated Air Force and Navy basing actions to exceed the region's real operational capacity, whether measured in airspace access, environmental compliance or community acceptance. The Air Force has indicated that Langley AFB would be the beddown location for its first operational F-22 unit (presumably the 1 st Fighter Wing, currently stationed at Langley and equipped with F-15C/D fighter aircraft). The Navy will probably replace current Hornets (F/A-18C and F/A-18D models) at Oceana with the F/A-18E/F "Super Hornet", and perhaps eventually with the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF).
The Navy has identified four Navy and Marine Corps air stations as potential receiving sites for the Super Hornet: Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Beaufort, South Carolina; MCAS Cherry Point, Havelock, North Carolina; Naval Air Station (NAS) Oceana, Virginia Beach, Virginia; and NAS Meridian, Mississippi. As part of the EIS process, the Navy is investigating the possibility of establishing an outlying landing field (OLF) that would support the Field Carrier Landing Practice (FCLP) of the Super Hornet squadrons. The OLF is under study for basing options associated with MCAS Beaufort, MCAS Cherry Point, and NAS Oceana.
The Navy will consider both single-siting and split-siting Super Hornet squadrons at one or more of the air stations. The naval air station supports the aircraft squadrons with maintenance and repair; flight training; and communication between squadrons regarding tactics, training, and deployment. When the squadrons are separated between two or more bases, the operational efficiency of the command is negatively affected. In addition, much of the support equipment and facilities are particular to the type of aircraft, such as aircraft parts, maintenance procedures, and training programs. The personnel that are employed in supply, maintenance, and training services at the base are also trained to support a particular type of aircraft. When the squadrons are separated between two or more bases, the support equipment, facilities, and personnel must be duplicated.
Stationing the F/A-18E/F at NAS Oceana would also entail training at Bombing Target (BT)-9 (Brant Island Shoal), Pamlico County, North Carolina, BT-11 (Piney Island), Carteret County, North Carolina, and Dare County Training Range, North Carolina
Secretary of Defense Recommendation: In its 2005 BRAC Recommendations, DoD recommended to realign NAS Oceana by relocating to Eglin AFB, FL, a sufficient number of instructor pilots, operations, and maintenance support personnel to stand up the Navy's portion of the Joint Strike Fighter Initial Joint Training Site, hereby established at Eglin AFB.
Additional Recommendation: The Secretary's proposed list submitted on May 13, 2005 did not include this facility in this context. It was added by the Commission on July 19, 2005 for further consideration.
Secretary of Defense Justification: The recommendation would establish Eglin Air Force Base, FL as an Initial Joint Training Site that would teach entry-level aviators and maintenance technicians how to safely operate and maintain the new Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) (F-35) aircraft. Assuming no economic recovery, this recommendation could result in a maximum potential reduction of 69 jobs (33 direct jobs and 36 indirect jobs) over 2006-2011 in the Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News, VA-NC, Metropolitan Statistical Area (less than 0.1 percent).
None regarding the second recommendation.
Community Concerns: The Virginia Beach, Virginia community places high value on the military's contribution to the community and fears the loss of over 11,000 direct jobs would devastate the local economy. The state has invested significant resources in improved roads around the base and moving schools out of the Accident Potential Zones. They acknowledged noise complaints by a small, but vocal, minority of residents but pointed out that planning commissions are developing new community planning overlays to limit encroachment and reduce development in the Accident Potential Zones. They argued funds needed to implement the Commission's consideration to relocate the Master Jet Base to Cecil Field, Florida could be better spent on the Navy's more pressing needs. They believe the Navy has no better or affordable alternative than remaining at NAS Oceana and managing encroachment.
The Jacksonville, Florida community offered to return all of the former NAS Cecil Field property, improved and unencumbered - free and clear. Local governments are prepared to absorb and support the approximately 11,000 personnel that would be associated with the relocation of the Navy's Atlantic Fleet Master Jet Base to Cecil Field. The community has invested $133 million to upgrade Cecil Field's infrastructure and has secured $130 million in funding for a high speed access road from Cecil Field to Interstate Highway 10. All required base conversion activities, including a new or updated Environmental Impact Statement, can be completed in time to allow the Navy to establish and occupy a new Master Jet Base within the BRAC timeframe.
Commission Findings: The Commission found that significant residential and commercial encroachment had continued around NAS Oceana and Naval Auxiliary Landing Fields (NALF) Fentress for many years and was exacerbated when the 1995 BRAC Commission redirected F-18 aircraft and supporting assets from MCAS Cherry Point, NC and MCAS Beaufort, SC to NAS Oceana to take advantage of the excess capacity at NAS Oceana. It was the sense of the Commission that the encroachment issues were having a detrimental effect on the operations and training of the Navy's Atlantic Fleet Strike Fighter Wings and on the safety and welfare of the citizens of Virginia Beach and Chesapeake, VA. Consequently, the future for NAS Oceana as a Master Jet Base was severely limited, whereas Jacksonville, FL had taken effective and positive measures to protect the Air Installation Compatibility Use Zones (AICUZ) around Cecil Field, FL, and Naval Outlying Landing Field (NOLF) Whitehouse.
The intent of the Commission is to ensure that the State of Virginia and the municipal governments of Virginia Beach and Chesapeake take immediate and positive steps to halt the encroaching developments that are pending before them now and in the future, and also to roll back the encroachment that has already occurred in the Accident Potential Zones (APZ) around NAS Oceana and NALF Fentress, particularly in the APZ-1 areas. The Commission also considers that the more severe encroachment problems were created by the state and local governments by ignoring the Navy's repeated objections to incompatible residential and commercial developments under the AICUZ guidelines. Consequently, the funds to halt and reverse the encroachment should not come from federal funds, but rather from state and local funding sources.
It is the sense of the Commission that the Secretary of Defense deviated from the BRAC criteria by failing to consider NAS Oceana for closure or realignment. The longstanding and steadily worsening encroachment problem around NAS Oceana, without strong support from state and city governments to eliminate current and arrest future encroachment, will in the long term create a situation where the military value of NAS Oceana will be unacceptably degraded. The remedies presented to the Commission thus far have been unconvincing. It is also the sense of the Commission that the future of naval aviation is not Naval Air Station Oceana. The Commission urges the Navy to begin immediately to mitigate the noise encroachment and safety issues associated with flight operations around the Virginia Beach area by transitioning high-density training evolutions to other bases that are much less encroached, such as NOLF Whitehouse, FL, or Kingsville, TX.
The Secretary of Defense is directed to cause a rapid, complete due diligence review of the offer of the State of Florida to reoccupy the former NAS Cecil Field and to compare this review against any plan to build a new master jet base at any other location. This review is to be completed within 6 months from the date that the BRAC legislation enters into force and is to be made public to the affected states for comment. After review of the states' comments, which shall be submitted within 120 days after publishing the review, the Secretary of Defense shall forward to the oversight committees of Congress the review, the state comments, and his recommendation on the location of the Navy's future Atlantic Fleet Master Jet Base.
Commission Recommendations: The Commission found that when the Secretary of Defense failed to recommend the realignment of Naval Air Station Oceana, Virginia Beach, Virginia, he substantially deviated from final selection criteria 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5, and the Force Structure Plan; that the Commission add to the list of installations to be closed or realigned the recommendation:
Realign Naval Air Station Oceana, Virginia by relocating the East Coast Master Jet Base to Cecil Field, FL, if the Commonwealth of Virginia and the municipal governments of Virginia Beach, VA, and Chesapeake, Virginia, fail to enact and enforce legislation to prevent further encroachment of Naval Air Station Oceana by the end of March 2006, to wit: enact state-mandated zoning controls requiring the cities of Virginia Beach and Chesapeake to adopt zoning ordinances that require the governing body to follow Air Installation Compatibility Use Zone (AICUZ) guidelines in deciding discretionary development applications for property in noise levels 70 dB Day-Night, average noise Level (DNL) or greater; enact state and local legislation and ordnances to establish a program to condemn and purchase all the incompatible use property located within the Accident Potential Zone 1 areas for Naval Air Station Oceana, as depicted in the 1999 AICUZ pamphlet published by the US Navy and to fund and expend no less than $15 million annually in furtherance of the aforementioned program; codify the 2005 final Hampton Roads Joint Land Use Study recommendations; legislate requirements for the cities of Virginia Beach and Chesapeake to evaluate undeveloped properties in noise zones 70 dB DNL or greater for rezoning classification that would not allow uses incompatible under AICUZ guidelines; establish programs for purchase of development rights of the inter-facility traffic area between NAS Oceana and NALF Fentress; enact legislation creating the Oceana-Fentress Advisory Council. It shall be deemed that the actions prescribed to be taken by the Commonwealth of Virginia, and the Cities of Virginia Beach, and Chesapeake respectively, by the end of March 2006 have not been taken in their entirety, unless the Department of Defense Inspector General so certifies in writing to the President and oversight committees of Congress by June 1, 2006; and, if the State of Florida appropriates sufficient funds to relocate commercial tenants presently located at Cecil Field, Florida, appropriates sufficient funds to secure public-private ventures for all the personnel housing required by the Navy at Cecil Field to accomplish this relocation and turns over fee simple title to the property comprising the former Naval Air Station Cecil Field, including all infrastructure improvements that presently exist, to the Department on or before December 31, 2006, if the Commonwealth of Virginia and the municipal government of Virginia Beach, VA, and Chesapeake, VA, decline from the outset to take the actions required above or within 6 months of the Commonwealth of Virginia and the municipal governments of Virginia Beach, VA, and Chesapeake, VA, failing to carry through with any of the actions set out above, whichever is later. The State of Florida may not encumber the title by any restrictions other than a reversionary clause in favor of the State of Florida and short-term tenancies consistent with the relocation of the Master Jet Base to Cecil Field. It shall be deemed that the actions prescribed to be taken by the State of Florida and the City of Jacksonville respectively by the end of 31 December 2006 have not been taken in their entirety unless the Department of Defense Inspector General so certifies in writing to the President and oversight committees of Congress by June 1, 2007. If the Commonwealth of Virginia and the municipal governments of Virginia Beach, VA, and Chesapeake, VA, fail to take all of the prescribed actions and the State of Florida meets the conditions established by this recommendation, the units and functions that shall relocate to Cecil Field will include but are not limited to all of the Navy F/A-18 strike fighter wings, aviation operations and support schools, maintenance support, training, and any other additional support activities the Navy deems necessary and appropriate to support the operations of the Master Jet Base.
Note: A takeoff or a landing each count as one operation. A pattern such as FCLP, counts as two operations.
a The environmental impact statement to assess the relocation of Atlantic Fleet F/A-18 squadrons from NAS Cecil Field, Florida to other east coast installations projected that operations at NAS Oceana and NALF Fentress would peak by FY 1999. The highest level of aircraft operations, however, will not be reached until FY 2000.
b For the purposes of modeling, nighttime is defined as the time between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m.
Source: Final Environmental Impact Statement for Realignment of F/A-18 Aircraft and Operational Functions from NAS Cecil Field, Florida to Other East Coast Installations (March 1998).