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Honolulu Star-Advertiser November 15, 2012

Navy reviews plan to base 18 Poseidon jets on Oahu

By William Cole

The Navy said Wednesday it is considering not basing 18 P-8A Poseidon jets at Kaneohe Bay to save $300 million by consolidating the aircraft in Washington state and Florida instead.

The aircraft were expected to bring more jet traffic and noise to Marine Corps Air Station Kaneohe Bay, as well as 904 personnel and about $150 million in base upgrades.

The 18 Poseidons, a military version of the Boeing 737, were slated to replace aging, propeller-driven P-3C Orions for surveillance, reconnaissance and submarine-hunting.

In January 2009, the Navy announced it would base five Poseidon squadrons and a fleet replacement squadron at Naval Air Station Jacksonville in Florida, four squadrons at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island in Washington, and three squadrons at Kaneohe Bay.

However, the Navy said Wednesday it instead will prepare a supplemental environmental impact statement looking at just Whidbey and Jacksonville.

"The Navy has determined that a dual-siting alternative, rather than home-basing the aircraft at three locations, may best meet current requirements," the service said in a release.

Under the alternative, a "continuous presence" of two P-8As would be maintained at Kaneohe Bay by rotating aircraft here, the Navy said.

No decision has been made on the latest proposal, the Navy said, and it will be up to the secretary of the Navy to decide.

Ironically, the Navy in 2011 said it was considering leaving Whidbey out of the P-8A basing and sending all the jets to Jacksonville and Hawaii to save money.

Whidbey Island regained favor with the recent refocus on the Pacific, an official said.

The Navy said it now will look at basing either five or six squadrons and the fleet replacement squadron at Jacksonville, and six or seven squadrons at Whidbey.

According to the website GlobalSecurity.org, Navy patrol squadrons operate older P-3 Orion aircraft from permanent detachment sites in Manama, Bahrain; Masirah, Oman; Kadena, Okinawa and Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean.

Hawaii-based Orions have also deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Even without the Poseidon aircraft, the Kaneohe air station will be a very busy place.

The Pentagon wants to move 2,700 Marines from Japan to Hawaii as the U.S. seeks to reduce its military presence on Okinawa.

Officials have said the Marines prefer to keep the additional troops at Kaneohe Bay, but Pearl City Peninsula and the old Barbers Point Naval Air Station also are being considered to house them.

In August, meanwhile, the Navy approved the basing of up to 24 Marine Corps tilt-rotor Osprey aircraft at the base, along with 27 Cobra and Huey helicopters.

The additional aircraft, expected to arrive through 2018, would bring 1,000 active-duty personnel with 1,106 dependents and increase annual flights to 79,000 in coming years from 53,000 in 2009, an environmental impact statement said.

In September, the Marines activated Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 367, which goes by the call sign "Scarface," with four UH-1Y Hueys and five AH-1W Super Cobras on base.

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