How loud is it living near a military base?

Living near a military base can be challenging, especially when it comes to noise pollution. And the increasing intensity of military aircraft noise, particularly with the transition to more powerful military aircraft, has made the situation worse.

In this article, we explore the impact of military base noise on nearby communities and what steps are being taken to address this issue, including the need for further research.

Military base placement and operations

The US Department of Defense manages more than 4,000 military bases, the majority of which were established before the 1950s. The placement of military bases has always been strategic, with the aim of minimizing the impact on nearby civilian populations. However, as cities have grown and expanded, military bases have found themselves in closer proximity to residential areas. Consequently, an increasing number of people are residing in an environment that exposes them to detrimental auditory effects.

Map of military bases in the US. Interactive map here

Military bases have various functions, including accommodating military personnel, managing equipment, and conducting training and testing activities. The on-base operations encompass a range of activities such as:

  • Bombing exercises
  • Live-fire exercises
  • Large transportation convoys
  • Advanced fighter jet deployments

These activities generate a range of noises, from rotating helicopter blades to thunderous F-35 supersonic jets and power-projecting bombing campaigns.

The military has recently consolidated strategic bases, known as joint bases, which host military training exercises in ever-increasing duration, frequency, and intensity, expanding the scope and magnitude of loud bombs, and screaming jets. Recent technologies such as hypersonic jets, electromagnetic jamming jets, and artillery like the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) have caused apprehension among residents living nearby.

Impact of military noise on nearby communities

The impact of this noise on nearby communities can be significant. Studies have found that the new F-35 hypersonic jet, with a decibel rating of over 150, is roughly 25 decibels louder than the outdated F-16. This is about 6 times as loud and could be heard as far as 100 miles away from the jet’s flight path, depending on environmental conditions.

F-35 hypersonic jet taking off

The arrival of the F-35s to a densely populated area of Vermont put 2,640 dwellings into a noise restriction zone that resulted in thousands of residents now living in conditions that exceed those compatible with residential use. A sonic boom created by a F-35 jet flying at an altitude of 70,000 feet has a decibel rating of 110, covers a 90-mile-wide swath, and is loud enough to shake homes and rattle windows.

The introduction of more advanced military aircraft, like the Growlers – electromagnetic jamming jets, has brought similar concerns and discomfort to areas around military airfields. At Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Tacoma, WA, the sound levels produced by these aircraft frequently surpass 110 decibels, which is nearly four times louder than the noise from a jackhammer heard from five feet away. As a result, thousands of residents in the vicinity are now living in conditions deemed unsuitable for residential use by the FAA.

US Navy EA-19 Growler taking off from Mountain Home base

The impact of noise on human health and well-being is a growing concern. High-intensity exposure specifically from military aircraft has been associated with annoyance, sleep disturbance, resident dissatisfaction, and even low birth weights.

The human instinctive reaction to noise

As living beings, we’ve evolved a reflex to unexpected loud sounds, which we associate with danger, causing our muscles to tense and our body to instinctively react. However, if subjected to repeated exposure, this can be physically and mentally draining, leading to exhaustion and, in severe cases, a nervous breakdown.

A study investigating the effects of noise pollution at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island found that the number of flight events per day ranged from 69 to 239, creating an overwhelming and disheartening experience for those in the vicinity.

Noise pollution can create disruptions in speech and thought processes, causing difficulties in resuming tasks once interrupted. The noise levels around military bases are often characterized as a persistent and overbearing presence, producing a sense of discomfort and unease due to low-frequency vibrations.

For residents near explosive ordinance training facilities, such as the 90,000-acre Fort Bragg, in North Carolina, differentiating between routine training and an actual threat can be challenging, particularly when the ground rumbles due to live bombing practices.

A A-10 Thunderbolt II releases its munitions during a close air support training mission at the Nevada Test and Training Range. 

Residing in an environment characterized by such high levels of tension will inevitably have an impact on one’s psychological well-being.

Steps to address military training noise

Despite growing concerns over military base noise, little has been done to address the issue. Military transportation and activities are among the least studied sources of noise pollution worldwide, partly due to the restrictive regulations surrounding military bases and airfields. Additionally, the United States military is exempted from adhering to noise abatement regulations at both the federal and local levels.

However, the military has identified priorities and taken action to mitigate noise pollution impacts. This includes:

  • Regional development planning
  • Installing conservation easements to preserve open spaces
  • Shifting flight patterns
  • Shutting down and relocating heavy artillery training to more rural spaces.

To address the issue further, collaboration between the military, government, and local communities is necessary to discover solutions that work for everyone.

For instance, when the United States Marine Corps was looking to bring their aircraft to Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego, community members were concerned about the noise levels. After discussions took place, a solution was found in the form of an agreement that saw the Marines move most of their helicopter training to another facility, while also adopting quieter helicopter models.

In some cases, the military has also offered compensation to residents affected by noise pollution. For example, the United States Navy offers compensation to residents of Virginia Beach, Virginia, who live within a certain distance of Naval Air Station Oceana due to elevated noise levels. Still, it is important for potential buyers to familiarize themselves with the area before purchasing property near a military base, as it still has a significant impact on noise comfort, despite the efforts being made.


In conclusion, the impact of noise pollution when living near a military base can be a significant concern. The increasing intensity of military aircraft noise, especially with the use of more powerful military aircraft like the F-35 and electromagnetic jamming jets, has only worsened the situation.

To address this problem, there is a need for more focused research to fully understand the effects of military base noise and to develop effective strategies for mitigating its impact, ultimately resulting in communities that are healthier and more livable for everyone.

Given the complexity and multifaceted nature of the problem, a holistic approach is essential to address the effects of noise pollution from military bases on nearby communities. Through continued collaboration and ongoing efforts to reduce the impact of noise pollution, it is possible to develop communities that prioritize the well-being of all individuals living within them.

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Hi! My name is Jordan Bentley. I'm an ecologist, conservationist, and watershed manager with over 20 years of experience in natural resource stewardship. My passion lies in the interactions between the military and the natural environment. My expertise spans across a range of fields, including wildlife biology, restoration ecology, and environmental policy. I am committed to family, community and nature.

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