Military presents missile defense plans for Alaska

Posted: Wednesday, February 26, 2003

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- The Defense Department's Missile Defense Agency is proposing to increase testing around the Pacific basin, including expanding the state's Kodiak Launch Complex.

The plans, presented Tuesday at a hearing in Anchorage, include expansion of the Kodiak facility so that two interceptors could be fired simultaneously at targets launched thousands of miles away.

The plans are part of the growing test bed for the ground-based anti-missile system under construction in Fort Greely and Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

Currently, interceptor missiles -- the ''bullets'' designed to destroy incoming warheads while they are still arcing through space -- can only be launched from the government's test facility in Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands. Proposed multilaunch facilities at Kodiak and Vandenberg would allow increasingly ''robust testing in scenarios that are as operationally realistic as possible,'' Col. Kevin Norgaard, the Army's director of missile defense site activation in Alaska, said in his introduction for the Anchorage meeting.

But despite a noisy demonstration that drew about 50 protesters outside the Egan Convention Center prior to the meeting, only three people took advantage of the public hearing to voice their concerns. The hearing ended before 7:30 p.m., more than an hour and a half ahead of schedule.

The hearing was called for public comment on a draft environmental impact statement issued by the government for the expanded test bed. In addition to the new roles for Kodiak and Vandenberg, officials are looking for a home port for a new high-power sea-based radar that would be built on an oil platform and towed around the Pacific during tests. Valdez and Adak are among six potential Pacific ports for the vessel and its 50-person crew.

Norgaard said that even if construction of silos at Kodiak is approved, there currently is no money to build them. Money was redirected to deploy missiles at Fort Greely based under a directive issued in December by President Bush to have an operational system by October 2004.

The draft environmental impact statement said even if all the new additions were combined with the already under-construction facilities, the effects would be minimal to none.

While the three speakers challenged that claim, they mainly objected to something not on the agenda -- the entire missile defense system.

Jim Sykes of Palmer, a former Green Party candidate for governor and the U.S. senate, said the state was more at risk from a misfired test missile than ''any of the sticks that North Korea may send our way.''

Greg Garcia, from Chugiak, said the missile defense system was a hugely expensive program ''that protects us from the least-likely attack scenario.''

Steve Cleary, organizer of Citizens Opposed to Defense Experimentation, said he thought people stayed away because the scope of the meeting was so narrow. Clear was the organizer of the demonstration that preceded the hearing.

''Our opposition is not about construction projects like silos,'' he said, but rather of missile defense.

Written or telephone comments on the draft environmental plan will be accepted until March 24. The final environmental impact statement is expected to be complete in July and a decision made in August.

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