The California Coastal Commission on Thursday gave its blessing for the Army’s next-generation artillery system to conduct a test-firing program at Vandenberg Space Force Base.
The item related to the Extended Range Cannon Artillery II (ERCA) appeared on the consent agenda for Thursday’s meeting when commissioners agreed with the Air Force that the program would be consistent with the California Coastal Management Program.
The Army plans to use an old missile silo site, dubbed Launch Facility-05, on the northern segment of Vandenberg for the “multi-element, multi-phase test program of the Army’s next-generation artillery systems.”
Proposed test firings would be aimed over the Pacific Ocean directly west onto and over the Navy‘s Point Mugu Sea Range.
Plans call for a maximum of 51 test firing days and 77 individual firings between 2023 and 2025, according to the commission staff. The two-year test program will start a year later than initially planned.
“The firings would generate sonic booms, which have the potential to disturb onshore and offshore marine mammals, pinnipeds, sea otters and onshore amphibians (red legged frogs),” the California Coastal Commission staff wrote in a report.
A small population of California red-legged frogs live in the drainage near LF-05, and a pinniped, or seal, haulout is present within one-half mile of LF-05.
“The effects from the cannon firings would be similar to past military testing and training activities at VSFB and on the PMSR, for which the commission has concurred with Air Force and Navy consistency determinations,” staff wrote.
“The Air Force has included measures to monitor and minimize adverse effects on marine resources. Likely effects would be limited to temporary startle reactions at onshore pinniped haulout areas northwest of LF-05. With these monitoring and impact minimization commitments, the staff recommends the commission find the project consistent with the marine resources and water quality policies … of the Coastal Act.”
For tests, the cannon would be anchored to the ground with footings installed within the existing boundary of LF-05.
Major components of the artillery system include the cannon, gun mount, artillery projectile and propelling charges.
Notices to mariners would be issued to advise boaters to remain out of the ocean off the coast of Vandenberg. Similar warnings occur before missile tests and rocket launches from Vandenberg.
LF-05 currently isn’t being used by the Air Force, but is fully paved, according to the staff report. Modifications for the new program at LF-05 include removal of several light poles and parking lot car stops.
Commission staff said the Air Force considered a number of alternative locations worldwide, both on and off VSFB. Other potential test sites considered included Kodiak Island in Alaska, Woomera Test Range in Australia, Wallops Island in Virginia, Cape Canaveral in Florida, the Reagan Test Site in the Marshall Islands and San Nicolas Island in Ventura County.
Alternative sites considered on Vandenberg were LF-06 and the Advanced Ballistic Reentry System-A area.
“The Air Force determined that the proposed site at LF-05 … would have the best potential of meeting program needs while minimizing impacts to other [military] DoD operations,” the staff report said.
— Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.