The Navy is looking at eliminating a West Coast base for its new P-8A Poseidon sub-hunting and surveillance planes, a cost-saving move that could shift more of the jets — and noise — to Kaneohe Bay, officials said.
Hawaii, Whidbey Island in Washington state and Jacksonville, Fla., had been selected in 2009 as home bases for the Poseidons, a version of the Boeing 737 that will replace aging, propeller-driven P-3C Orions.
Kaneohe Bay was picked for three squadrons and 18 aircraft that are expected to begin arriving in 2015.
But with the Pentagon seeking to re-prioritize $100 billion in spending, the Navy said it is considering operating from two bases instead of three.
U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, a Democrat from Washington state, said the Navy decided to make Hawaii and Jacksonville the initial homes of the twin-engined Poseidons, while Whidbey would remain a "potential future home" for the planes.
"The U.S. Navy leadership believes that it needs the P-8A squadrons as far forward in the Pacific as possible," Larsen, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said in a release.
Marine Corps Air Station Kaneohe Bay was home to fighter jet squadrons from the 1950s to the 1990s. Some nearby residents say aircraft noise from the base can be overwhelming.
Kaneohe resident Elayne Pool, who has lived along the bay for 32 years, said she expects the P-8As to add to the din.
"I don’t want them to be here," the 83-year-old said. "The noise factor is going to be incredible. Noise is a factor in this bay — it’s a basin and it resonates."
She added that she can clearly see the underbellies of the P-3C Orions on approach from her condo a block off the beach, and she’s concerned about the torpedoes, cruise missiles, bombs and mines the planes can carry.
Lt. Joe Myers Vasquez, a spokesman for the Navy at the Pentagon, said the P-8A’s ability to operate away from its home bases might allow for an "infrastructure consolidation."
"As the program has matured, the Navy recently identified potential efficiencies in moving from three to two main operating bases," Myers Vasquez said. The Navy is studying "potential savings and impacts … for the various base options. However, no final decision has been made," he said.
Myers Vasquez could not say whether the Navy is looking at placing additional Poseidons in Hawaii, but he said if the basing consolidation is pursued, additional analysis on environmental impacts will take place.
Per the Navy’s 2009 decision, Jacksonville was to host five squadrons and a fleet replacement squadron starting in 2013, with Whidbey Island receiving four P-8A squadrons by 2019, officials said.
Periodic squadron detachments to North Island, Calif., also are expected. A total of 117 aircraft are planned to be purchased.
All but three of the Navy’s 27 P-3C Orions at Kaneohe Bay would be replaced by Poseidons, the service said in late 2008.
The environmental review for the initial 18 Poseidons said the basing would bring slightly more noise and an investment of $147.5 million for infrastructure upgrades.
CORRECTION: Marine Corps Base Hawaii is scheduled to receive three squadrons of P-8A Poseidons and a total of 18 aircraft. A previous version of this story yesterday reported the base is scheduled to receive two squadrons.