Since the release of the Draft Supplemental EIS/OEIS on Dec. 11, 2020, and completion of the Northern Edge 2021 exercise, the Navy recognized that the size and shape of the Gulf of Alaska Temporary Maritime Activities Area no longer provides sufficient space for the realistic maneuvering of vessels and aircraft during training exercises. Proposed changes to the Study Area include additional airspace and sea space to the west and south of the Temporary Maritime Activities Area. The additional area is referred to as the Western Maneuver Area and adds approximately 185,806 square nautical miles to the Study Area. This additional space would enable Navy personnel and units to practice more realistic, complex training scenarios in a safer, more efficient manner that would better prepare them to respond to real-world incidents.
The Temporary Maritime Activities Area would remain unchanged and any activities involving active sound navigation and ranging, known as sonar, or explosives would, as in the past, occur in this area only. The Navy is not proposing new or increased number of training activities in the Western Maneuver Area, only an expansion of the area the Navy may use for vessel and aircraft maneuvering purposes during exercises.
The activities conducted in the Western Maneuver Area would be limited to vessel movements and aircraft training, and several events associated with these movements. The number of vessels, aircraft, underway steaming hours, events, and flight times remains the same. While the revised Study Area is larger, the type and number of training events would not change. The vast majority of training activities would still occur only in the Temporary Maritime Activities Area.
The Study Area is the ideal location for realistic at-sea training because of its proximity to a large contingent of Air Force and Army land training areas and airspace, as well as personnel, resources, equipment, and infrastructure in Alaska. The Gulf of Alaska Study Area provides the vast space needed to maximize the realism of the exercises.
Training activities are conducted far enough offshore of coastal areas to reduce impacts on Alaska Native tribal, commercial, and recreational fishing. The area avoids many sensitive resources of the coastal regions with no overlap of salmon and herring management areas, partial overlap with groundfish and halibut management areas, and minimal overlap with shellfish management areas.