Associated Press Newswires
Natter: Money To Follow Vieques' Move To States
By BILL KACZOR
October 15, 2002
PENSACOLA, Fla. (AP) - Florida and several other Southern states can expect financial benefits following a prized Navy weapons range's move from Puerto Rico to Florida, an admiral said Tuesday.
The Navy is shifting exercises from Vieques Island in Puerto Rico to ranges at sea and bases on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts.
"I intend to take a lot of investment that we had heretofore earmarked and utilized for bases in Puerto Rico ... (and) translate that investment into this state and the other states," said Adm. Robert J. Natter, head of the U.S. Fleet Forces Command and chief of the U.S. Atlantic Fleet.
He spoke to community leaders at a Rotary Club meeting in this Navy town that will see increased activity from the training shift. Support aircraft will fly out of Pensacola Naval Air Station. Warships will dock there and at Key West Naval Air Station for supplies, repairs and crew liberty.
The Navy earlier this year announced plans for moving the training in the wake of protests against continued use of Vieques that began after a civilian security guard there was killed by an errant bomb in 1999.
Live-fire exercises have been halted at Vieques , and President Bush has promised the Navy would stop all training there by May.
"I don't intend to sink because he have to leave Vieques ," Natter told reporters. "We're going to be deploying combat-ready forces."
The Navy already has moved its live bomb drops to test ranges at Eglin Air Force Base, about 40 miles east of Pensacola, and plans to use the Avon Park and Pinecastle bombing ranges in central Florida.
Natter, a native of Trussville, Ala., said he will fly over over Eglin's beach areas Wednesday to scout them as possible amphibious exercise sites.
He expects to conduct only one or two aircraft carrier battlegroup exercises in the Gulf of Mexico each year, using Eglin and other Gulf Coast installations. The Navy will stay out of the gulf during hurricane season and use Atlantic Coast bases during those periods, Natter said.
Those including the Navy-Air Force Dare Range in North Carolina, Marine Corps facilities at Cherry Point, N.C., and the Townsend Range in Georgia.
It would be too dangerous to use Eglin for naval gunnery exercises, so the Navy is turning to technology for training at sea, the admiral said.
Buoys with listening devices pick up the sounds of shells and other weapons hitting the water and send it back to the ships to determine how close they landed to targets.
The Navy's Coastal Systems Station at Panama City Beach helped develop the technology, which will get its first test in the gulf next month, Natter said.
He said the Navy's training would help protect participating bases against future closures or reductions.
"Whatever facility or base has another use or another requirement, that to my view is beneficial," Natter said. "The last time I checked I don't have much use for bases in Kansas and Nebraska."