A North Carolinian’s perspective on the OLF

Published 7:48 am Wednesday, January 6, 2010

It is time to clear the air about the Navy’s desire for an outlying landing field.

First, it is no quick fix for economic downturns. The U.S. Congress must pass and the president sign the yearly Defense Authorization Act.

Contained in this act are the specifics of authorization and budget for an OLF. Money can’t be taken from other sources and applied to an OLF during the year. Total time to build the OLF is about two years — not a quick fix. Companies to construct the “touch and go” site will not be permanent in nature. Related jobs are mostly highly technical, except for landscaping and possibly security.

Adm. Robert Natter, in a letter dated on Oct. 30, 2000, expressed a possible desire for another OLF to aid Oceana and Fentress Field in support of the Super Hornets that would come to Oceana in the future.

“Public understanding is critical to our efforts,” he wrote.

The Navy announced in September 2003 the desire to locate an OLF in Washington and Beaufort counties in North Carolina. In January 2004 there began a series of lawsuits regarding wildlife — especially wild fowl — and the Navy’s lack of appropriate study of the area. On May 17, 2007, the U.S. House repealed an OLF in Washington/Beaufort by a vote of 397-27. The Senate Armed Services Committee followed suit by removing funding for an OLF in any of the five sites being considered. The Navy finally abandoned the original five sites in January 2008.

Governors of Virginia and North Carolina were asked to propose new OLF sites. Criteria began with a certain pattern of woodland and open land, and multiple areas were placed in consideration and were first chosen by the natural resource-type departments in each state. Final criteria came with the idea of being within a 50-mile radius of Oceana and directed in a particular pattern. The governors and the Navy decided on two sites in North Carolina and three sites in Virginia.

This desire-turned-emergent-need was for the Super Hornets. Now, we are looking at the next generation — the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

The Navy has delayed the Environmental Impact Study study because, once again, the viability of Oceana is in question. The question of F-35 noise has been debated back and forth, but when you consider the Navy is studying how to protect aircraft deck crew from the noise of the F-35, there must be a big problem. Studies even show that the F-35 can’t land at Oceana.

The process of building the F-35 is in trouble. A 2008 General Accounting Office report states, “The GAO has a long-standing disagreement with the program over timing and especially the decision to begin low-rate initial production before testing is complete in 2013.” A GAO 2009 study expresses that there are “fiscal, operational and environmental considerations as to where these jets can be based.”

The GAO furthers states, “Chronic manufacturing inefficiencies, parts problems, design changes and a steep learning curve have slowed delivery of test aircraft,” according to the watchdog agency, even as the Department of Defense wants to ramp up production of line aircraft. Speeding up the delivery of 169 aircraft by 2015 will require billions in additional funding, “magnifying the financial risk to the government” and adding years to the development schedule, according to the GAO.

Doesn’t it seem prudent and cost-effective to see if Oceana can even have F-35s based there before spending more taxpayer money on an OLF to nowhere?