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Operating Area (OPAREA)

An at-sea Operating Area (OPAREA) is an area where training exercises and system qualification tests are routinely conducted. Ship and aircraft are highly mobile and their on-board high-power radar systems are designed to cover broad areas consistent with their mission to defend the United States. Routine naval operations are more limited geographically than airborne operations and occur principally in coastal areas, shipyards, and training ranges. Accordingly, radars operating in these areas present a potential for EMI to fixed earth station receivers that can be somewhat more predictable.

Airspace requirements provoke contentious and turbulent discussions among the users of the Nation's airspace system. Naval airspace requirements are continually changing and increasing with the introduction of advanced weapons, aircraft and tactics. The most alarming threats to military airspace access, those which could have caused the wholesale loss of access to major training complexes, have not been followed through, but that incremental airspace encroachment pressure continues at many key operating locations.

The military basing structure faces unprecedented challenges as interest groups, communities, state and local governments, and non-DoD Federal agencies seek and impose restrictions on training and flight operations. With significant interest in further streamlining of the DoD basing infrastructure, access to airspace and ranges will become a vital determinant in deciding where and how the naval services are able to develop and test weapons, and to train aviators.

Military and civil organizations have increasing and competing requirements for airspace - a limited resource which is crucially important, especially in the continental United States and the adjacent offshore areas. This competition is caused, in part, by emerging technology and the associated cost benefit to commercial air carriers, unconstrained growth in civil aviation and the expanding foot print of current weapons systems.

Ground encroachment at a majority of the training and test facility ranges has the potential to prohibit any expansion of current assets to satisfy the requirements of modern standoff weapons systems, and threatens the retention of current assets. Quantitatively, airspace assets, even those on the East Coast, appear to meet current requirements, and no units have reported airspace-related training shortfalls. However, population growth and migration, particularly in areas dominated by a significant military presence, presents a concern that cannot be ignored.

The advances in technology represented by higher performing aircraft, "smart" munitions and weapons with increased standoff range capability cannot be thoroughly exercised in the airspace initially designed for low performance aircraft armed with "iron bombs". This limitation has been present in recent years but workarounds have been developed and adopted to overcome the training deficiencies. This flexibility is rapidly disappearing, as the technology procured to keep our forces in a dominant position must be exercised to gain competence and confidence in its use.

The ranges at Dare County and the Cherry Point complex in North Carolina; NAS Fallon, Nevada; MCAS Yuma, Arizona; and the multiservice airspace complex overlying Edwards AFB and the Naval Air Warfare Center at China Lake, California, are particularly susceptible to civilian ground and air encroachment. An additional factor is the increase in government land withdrawals to establish or expand national parks, wildlife refuges, and national monuments, and the more assertive management philosophies of some of the affected agencies.

In 1957, a mid-air collision between civilian aircraft over the Grand Canyon prompted a review of the nation's overall airspace management system. Recognizing the need for improved management of the National Airspace System, Congress enacted the Federal Aviation Act of 1958. This legislation resulted in the establishment of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Provisions of this legislation provided the FAA with the mandate to manage the national airspace while paying particular attention to the needs of national defense.

In the interest of improved air safety, a well-defined scheme for air traffic separation was implemented, including the formation of designated areas for military air operations. The Positive Control area above 24,000 feet mean sea level (MSL), subsequently lowered to 18,000 feet MSL, above which all aircraft must be under some form of positive air traffic control is one example of the initiatives implemented as the result of the Act of 58. Airspeed was restricted to a maximum of 250 knots below 10,000 feet MSL, except in designated training areas is another example. These examples are provided to document actions taken in the interest of air safety which resulted in the curtailment of the military to operate without constraints.

To effectively accomplish the mission, whether routine training, flight testing or weapons system development, the military must be able to operate tactically without being artificially constrained. To do so, DoD, in conjunction with the FAA, developed the concept of Special Use Airspace (SUA). By definition, SUA is that airspace "where activities must be confined, but not necessarily restricted, because of their nature" or which limit's access to non-participating aircraft that are not a part of those operations. SUA has horizontal and vertical dimensions and is normally in effect for the published or scheduled times. Most SUA is located within the territorial boundaries of the United States.

Thus, during the 1960's and 1970's, parcels of SUA was assigned to the DoD by the FAA to support military operations that were considered to be incompatible with civil aviation activities or were considered to be hazardous in nature. These SUA areas were, for the most part, located over or adjacent to military installations and created minimal conflict with civil aviation.

Throughout the 1970's and 1980's, as population increased near military installations and operating areas, a corresponding rapid growth in civil aviation occurred. The introduction of jet aircraft complemented by the recognition of the civilian population of the advantages of air transportation over other means created a demand for cost savings throughout efficient routing. Rapid means of communications provided nation wide publicity of environmental concerns expressed by various special interest groups. As the volume of airspace identified as SUA increased, the FAA and the DoD came under close scrutiny regarding the management of airspace. Requests for additional airspace to support new or expanded missions began to experience organized opposition. These pressures and opposition to expansion continues today. Managers of SUA assets are therefore required to focus on documentation of use and requirements, assure shared-use SUA resources, and return those resources for public use when the military mission no longer justifies retention.

The Navy is charged with the responsibility for surveillance, scheduling, management and control of military activity conducted in the majority of coastal operating areas (Warning Areas) along the Atlantic seaboard, the Florida peninsula, Puerto Rico, the Gulf Coast, the Pacific coast, and the Hawaiian Operating Areas. To discharge this responsibility the Navy has commissioned a number of hybrid facilities known as Fleet Area Control and Surveillance Facilities (FACSFAC). Operations conducted in the Warning Areas require the use of three-dimensional operating areas: subsurface, surface and airspace. These resources may be scheduled concurrently or for exclusive use. DoD retains the priority for use of Warning Area airspace but competes with civil aviation, shipping, oil and gas exploration and fishing interests for its use. FACSFACs are established at Virginia Capes (NAS Oceana), VA (FACSFAC VACAPES); NAS Jacksonville, FL; Naval Station Roosevelt Roads, PR; San Diego, (NAS North Island) CA; NAS Pensacola, FL and NS Pearl Harbor, HI. The primary radar feeds for the FACSFACs are the Joint Surveillance System Air Route Surveillance Radar-4 (ARSR-4) long range radars jointly operated by the FAA and the US Air Force.

Evolving technologies and changing threats have resulted in a modification of mission and capabilities, which have generated requirements for larger parcels of airspace, vertically and horizontally to support the expanded mission. The current political environment , absence of a clearly defined and understood threat to national security and emerging technologies which promise exceptional cost benefit to commercial carriers are threats to the retention of SUA resources.

Paramount in the battle to retain SUA resources is the concept of "Free Flight". Free flight essentially transfers the Command and Control function of Air Traffic Control from the ground to the cockpit. This concept will allow air carriers and other civilian aviation interests, to fly in an IFR environment similar to the way VFR operations are conducted today. One of the major obstacles to the implementation of "Free Flight" is the artificial obstacle of point-to-point air navigation. Additional developments placing demands upon airspace resources include the concentration of forces as the result of right sizing initiatives, implementation of the Air Installation Compatible Use Zones (AICUZ), and the cellular telephone industry. Initiatives by other branches of the Federal Government to assume management responsibility from the FAA for airspace which overlies parcels of land/National Parks and Wilderness areas, are an additional area of concern.

The FAA Act of 1958 delegated the responsibility for the management of airspace within the United States to the FAA. The DoN mission is to maintain a high state of readiness to conduct prompt and sustained combat operations in support of national security interest. Additionally, the DoN must develop tactics and weapons systems that support the successful prosecution of combat operations. In order to achieve and retain an acceptable state of readiness, the DoN must succeed in its quest for airspace. The FAA must, as mandated by statute, respond to this request for airspace resources while simultaneously promoting the growth and fiscal health of civilian interest and the public's access to navigable airspace. The FAA, therefore, is compelled to balance national defense requirements with civilian aviation needs. To maintain that balance, the FAA requires documentation that defines and justifies near and long term DoN airspace objectives. Documentation of the use of existing resources is also required to assure retention.

Until recently, the DoN managed airspace resources and initiated requests for additional resources in a decentralized fashion. This lack of a focused approach resulted in each individual, or command requiring airspace to satisfy mission tasking without assessing the resources, that may have been available from another unit within the DoN, or other branch of service. The request for airspace realized mixed results. Success was often based upon personalities and not on the validity of the requirement.

In 1987, the Chief of Naval Operations, in recognition of the fragmented approach associated with airspace management in the DoN, authorized an update of a study originally conducted in the early 1970's. This study, "Project Blue Air", was completed in November 1987. The report addressed issues and requirements for airspace through the year 2005. For the first time, the airspace delegated to the DoN to support missions assigned to Naval Aviation was reviewed, publicized, and, when appropriate, resource management was criticized.

The Blue Air study recognized the need for continuity in airspace matters and justified the adoption of a focused, centralized approach to airspace related initiatives. Following the issuance of the report, a tasking message was sent to the fleet. This message led to a series of meetings and initiatives. This commitment resulted in the creation of a DoN organization and management structure, which protects naval interest while exercising responsibility in managing the airspace resources delegated for its use.

By 1990, the planning and action directed by the findings of the Blue Air study, resulted in the development of a comprehensive approach to airspace management. This approach featured the assignment of airspace management to the Airspace and Air Traffic Control Section, N885F, within the Director, Air Warfare Division, N88, organization. Additionally, the assignment of Regional Airspace Coordinators (RACs) was accomplished including the issuance of their rolls and responsibilities. The responsibilities of the NAVREPs in support of the RACs were delineated, Regional Airspace Plans were developed and published and the initial version of the DoN Airspace Plan was developed, approved and published.

The decisions resulting from the Base Relocation and Closure (BRAC) panel, in 1993, necessitated an update to the Blue Air study conducted in 1987. In addition to assessing the available airspace to support the force as restructured by BRAC decisions, the 1993 study assessed the results taken in response to the findings of the 1987 study. BRAC actions that have lead to the closure of NAS Cecil Field, Chase Field, Alameda, Moffett, Glenview, South Weymouth, Memphis, Dallas, Barbers Point, MCAS El Toro and Tustin, complemented by the change in ownership of NAS Miramar from the Navy to the Marine Corps and the standing up of Joint Reserve Training Bases at Ft. Worth and Willow Grove demanded a reevaluation of the support infrastructure developed as a result of Blue Air 93.

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Page last modified: 05-07-2011 02:54:39 ZULU