Q&A on the OLF

Published 8:01 am Wednesday, January 28, 2009

FRANKLIN—Several Navy officials visited with The Tidewater News’ staff Monday morning to discuss the Outlying Landing Field project.

Rear Adm. David Anderson gave an update on the Navy’s site-selection process and fielded questions. He was joined by Mark Anthony, director of fleet ashore readiness, and Ted Brown, media relations officer.

Three sites in southeast Virginia and two in northeast North Carolina are under consideration for the site, which pilot trainees would use to simulate night landings.

Following are excerpts of the interview:

TN: So modeling, simulation and other technology can’t eliminate the need for live training. Has it reduced the number of training flights?”

Anderson: It has, greatly. You would have to divide it up to what section of training, and for the experience level of the pilot. So the worst-case scenario would be the most junior pilot in the hardest environment that he would do it. And that’s what I’m playing to with this OLF, to be honest with you, because I’m going to have the most junior pilots with a very perishable skill.

“The thing that is the most labor-intensive for real flight is that landing on the back of a carrier. You can’t replicate that. We have simulators where they practice it, but you can’t replace the real thing. Even landing on the field is not an exact replica of landing on the ship.”

(He explains how landing on an aircraft carrier would be different because of several factors, including the movement of the ship and the behavior of the wind at sea.)

“The best we could do is train to the highest level on land and then make them safe for those first unknowns when they hit the carrier. I wish the offshore platform concept had worked. We have got to find a solution. We have got to find another field to train these kids. I say kids because most of them literally are 24 years old when we take them out for the first time.”

TN: Former U.S. Sen. John Warner recommended Fort Pickett. What was done to exclude that possibility?

Anderson: “I wish Fort Pickett was about 25 miles closer. Bottom line, it’s too far away. But we looked hard at it. As the crow flies, it’s right at 100 (miles). The problem is, if I were to put (the OLF) up there, I would have to put it on the edge of the compound of the reserve, which would have the pattern going right over the town of Blackstone.

The other option would be to put it dead-center of the facility.

(He says the facility is used for training by the Army, Navy and Marine Corps.)

That is a national treasure right now. On the East Coast, there’s not many places where we can have live fire, maneuvering, roads … we put our Riverine forces on the river up there. They have live-fire Riverine courses so that these kids can be trained before they deploy. There’s not many places left on the entire East Coast where we could do that type of training.

TN: The OLF would displace that training?

Anderson: I couldn’t put an airfield in the middle of all this live fire. But the short answer is, the bottom line for me, for my operational requirements, it’s too far away.

TN: How has the change of presidential administrations affected this process, if at all? Do you see that changing this process?

Anderson: “At the federal level, we see it being very stable. We have the same support. They understand our requirement. Their reply, their attitude, as Sen. Warner and Sen. Webb first announced in a joint statement, right after we announced this new Environmental Impact Study, they aren’t saying, “Give the Navy a blank check,” nor were we asking for that. But what they were saying was “Please, we understand the Navy has a valid requirement. Work with them to find a solution.” And that was what their signal was to both state and local elected officials and the citizens.

This isn’t easy. And I realize that I’ve put a lot of politicians in a very bad position. And I’m very mindful of that. The Navy would have not done this unless we really had no other alternatives.