Missile-defense plans deserve watchful eye, debate from Alaskans

Posted: Tuesday, December 09, 2003

The Interior in the near future will find itself home to 15 interceptor missiles, with an unknown number of them expected to be ready for launching by September of next year.

Ten months from now.

That is President Bush's timeline for having a functioning national missile-defense system in operation. To that end, the military last month approved an $823 million contract change with Boeing to increase the number of missiles to be placed at Fort Greely, just outside of Delta Junction.

The original idea was to have five interceptors at Fort Greely as part of a testing and development program. But the head of the nation's Missile Defense Agency, overriding some reported resistance from his staff, essentially chose to reach the president's goal through a simultaneous approach: build a larger and operational system, then improve upon it in two-year blocks. A recent Washington Post story notes that no specific overall system has been chosen but that the Alaska site is simply a part of an undefined system of land-, sea- and air-based weapons that would target incoming enemy missiles.

What will next year's activation of this rudimentary missile system bring for Alaskans?

Aside from the much-needed boost to local economies, particularly to the economy of Delta Junction, the activation will likely bring renewed soul-searching among many residents. Protesters may again travel to Fort Greely, as they did when construction began two years ago, and Alaskans will again debate the political wisdom and technical frailties of missile defense.

In the end, though, it is a near certainty that the missiles will come and that the switches will soon be turned to the ''on'' position.

And that's something to which Alaskans should give continued attention.

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner

Dec. 1

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