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Kodiak's role diminished in new missile defense plans

Posted: Sunday, February 09, 2003

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- The Kodiak Launch Complex could play a smaller role than originally planned in the nation's missile defense system.

Plans to expand the state-owned complex to test interceptor missiles could be dropped because of President Bush's decision to deploy a missile defense system before it is fully tested.

State officials said they've learned from Defense Department planners that money for two new test silos or launch pads, originally planned for Kodiak, may be shifted to Fort Greely to help pay for 10 extra deployment silos there.

The government says there are no plans to fire test rockets from Fort Greely, which would result in overflights of Southcentral Alaska and the first booster stage falling on land.

The silos and other would-be improvements at the Kodiak complex are among dozens of proposals contained in a newly released draft environmental impact statement on the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense Extended Test Range. The impact statement was well under way when President Bush changed the nature of the program on Dec. 17.

The document was issued by the Missile Defense Agency in Huntsville, Ala., and will be the subject of public hearings late this month and in early March in Alaska, California, Hawaii and Washington.

It reveals other plans for Alaska and the Pacific region.

The Defense Department has abandoned plans to build a powerful X-band radar at Eareckson Air Station on Shemya Island in the Aleutians, but now hopes to construct such a tracking and target-acquisition radar on a floating Norwegian-built oil platform that can be towed around the Pacific. The environmental impact statement proposed basing the huge platform and its 50-person crew at one of six possible ports, including two Alaska candidates, Valdez and Adak.

The document also suggests that portable telemetry and radar equipment could be brought to any of seven Alaska sites to support tests, including Homer, Cordova and King Salmon, the Anchorage Daily News reported.

The scope of the document is massive, covering the missile defense ''test bed'' from Fort Greely near Delta to sites in Washington state and California, and to Hawaii and the Reagan Test Site on Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands.

In early tests, target and interceptor missiles were launched from Kwajalein and Vandenberg Air Force Base near Santa Barbara, Calif. The first launch of a target missile from Kodiak, in November 2001, ended in failure when an erroneous self-destruct command was issued to the missile a minute after launch. Officials were unable to determine whether a computer software or operator error was to blame, but they said they have revised procedures to prevent either from happening again.

Seeking ''operationally realistic conditions,'' military officials from the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization and the Missile Defense Agency that succeeded it eyed Kodiak as a third test launch platform for the interceptor rockets that would be based at Fort Greely. But when they announced plans to build two silos there of the kind being planned for the Interior base, four Alaska and two national environmental organizations sued, alleging the developments were well beyond the scope of any environmental assessment done to date.

The newly released draft environmental impact statement was required under settlement of the lawsuit last March. After public hearings and close of the public comment period in 45 days, the Missile Defense Agency will issue a final report.

Plans are still in flux as a result of President Bush's Dec. 17 announcement, according to agency spokesman Lt. Col. Rick Lehner.

President Clinton had proposed staging up to 100 interceptor missiles at Fort Greely, but only five were actually planned to go there by 2004 during the testing phase. Bush's decision to deploy the missiles before the testing program was complete means that six will be stationed there by 2004 and another 10 by 2005, Lehner said. Four additional missiles will be deployed at Vandenberg. Each missile needs a silo, which costs about $6 million to construct.

Several state officials, including Alaska missile coordinator Chris Nelson and Pat Ladner, president of the Alaska Aerospace Development Corp., the public agency that owns the Kodiak facility, say defense department planners told them to forget about the original plans for now.

''The interceptors at Kodiak are on hold,'' Nelson said.



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