FAIRBANKS (AP) -- The Department of Defense awarded a contract worth nearly $5 million contract Friday to a Point Hope Native corporation to prepare Fort Greely to become a national missile defense test site.
The award is the most concrete step so far in the proposal to transform the shuttered base outside Delta Junction into the eventual core of the Pentagon's desired missile shield.
The Army Corps of Engineers awarded the site preparation contract to Aglaq Construction Enterprises, a subsidiary of Tikigaq Native Corp. of the northwest Alaska village of Point Hope.
Aglaq, has offices in Point Hope, 600 miles northwest of Fairbanks, and Anchorage. The company will subcontract with a Fairbanks firm, Brice Inc.
The contract calls for the company to clear trees to allow for the future installation of interceptor missile silos, build a main access road, drill two water wells, and conduct other work, including soil excavation and grading.
The Army Corps of Engineers plans to issue a formal notice of the contract next week and work could start immediately afterward. The contract calls for the site work to be completed by mid-December.
The Pentagon hopes to subsequently construct up to five missile silos at Fort Greely as part of an expanded Pacific ''test bed'' for the proposed national missile defense system.
Proposed funding for that work awaits congressional approval.
''We're looking to do possible silo construction and other stuff next April at Fort Greely,'' Lt. Col. Rick Lehner, spokesman for the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization in Washington D.C., told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.
The Pentagon's plan is to store the interceptor missiles at Fort Greely, then ship them to the Kodiak Launch Complex for the test launches. The hope is to have the Fort Greely and Kodiak facilities ready for those tests to begin in two years.
''There is no present intent to test fire interceptor missiles from Fort Greely,'' according to a notice placed in the federal register last week. ''Any potential future decision to test fire at Fort Greely would only occur after a thorough environmental and safety analysis was performed.''
''In the event of a missile attack on the United States, the test bed at Fort Greely could potentially be used for ballistic missile defense,'' the Department of Defense notice added.
Fort Greely is the Pentagon's choice for the full-blown missile defense system should the test bed phase be completed and it is ever deployed. That could mean up to 100 interceptor missiles eventually based at Fort Greely and launched from there in case of an attack.
Initially basing the smaller-scale test bed at Fort Greely, even though the test launches are to be conducted in Kodiak, allows the military to test the infrastructure and work on design for an eventual larger system, the Department of Defense said.
The goal behind the national missile defense system is to counter accidental launches, terrorism, or attacks from ''rogue nations,'' rather than an all-out nuclear assault from Russia or China.
The proposed missile shield has drawn fire from critics abroad and in the United States. Missile test results so far have been mixed and critics note that the technology is far from proven.
Detractors also say that the proposal could spark a new arms race by violating the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with the then-Soviet Union. The treaty prohibits deployment of such national missile shields.
The Army Corps of Engineers awarded the site preparation contract to Aglaq Construction Enterprises through a Small Business Act program for awarding contracts to Native-owned firms.
The corps evaluated all firms that qualify under the act and determined that Aglaq was the best choice.
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