Bill resurrects missile defense field at Fort Greely Alaska


DEFENSE SPENDING: Senate approves bill that would reverse administration’s plans.


The bill is the first sign that Alaska’s elected officials have been able to alter at least a part of the administration’s efforts to scale back some missile defense programs while boosting others.

Putting the partially built Missile Field 2 in mothballs was one piece of the Obama administration’s efforts to redirect more than $1 billion in missile defense spending from plans left over from the Bush administration.

Fort Greely, near Delta Junction, is home of most of the Ground Based Interceptor missiles that could be launched, with uncertain success, against a ballistic warhead streaking toward the United States from North Korea or Iran.

The 2010 National Defense Authorization Act, the mammoth annual military programs bill, will direct the administration to finish the first half of the new missile field, according to Lindsay Young, Begich’s military legislative assistant. In return for completing seven of the 14 proposed silos in Missile Field 2, the bill would authorize shutting down the existing six silos of the original missile field there, Young said.

Begich, a Democrat, and U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, had been urging the administration to make fully operational all 40 silos originally planned for Fort Greely.Problems like mold and water leaks are now showing up in Missile Field 1 because of its hasty construction in 2004, Young said. While that field is operational, it will grow increasingly expensive to maintain, she said.

A newer field, designated Missile Field 3 and containing 20 operational silos, is in better shape, she said. Four silos are also located at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.



The Senate Armed Services Committee, of which Begich is a member, completed a closed-door markup of the defense bill Thursday. It won’t be publicly filed until Congress returns from the Fourth of July recess.

But with missile defense a hot subject now — North Korea is threatening another test of its long-range Taepodong 2 missile, perhaps over the July 4 weekend — Begich issued a statement Friday containing information about the bill. He also authorized his aide to talk about its effects in Alaska and particularly on Fort Greely.

"The agreement we reached will ensure that Alaska continues to serve as America’s front lines of defense against rogue nations," Begich said. "This will allow the (Defense) Department to build a more modernized and sophisticated capability than currently exists there today."

Young said the $680 billion defense bill doesn’t suggest how much money the Missile Defense Agency would need for the new silos, but Begich will likely propose $82 million when the bill comes before the full Senate. The money can’t be spent until it’s appropriated in a separate bill, but Alaska has some muscle in the Senate Appropriations Committee: Murkowski is a member and its chairman, Sen. Dan Inouye, D-Hawaii, is a longtime Alaska friend and a missile-defense proponent.

The defense bill also ratifies the administration’s proposal to complete the 44-interceptor fleet even if there won’t be silos for all of them, Young said. The Missile Defense Agency wants a full complement of missiles so it can continue to test the system and to replace older interceptors.

According to Ralph Scott, the spokesman for the Missile Defense Agency in Alaska, 16 missiles are currently in silos at Fort Greely and are ready to be launched. Seven more have been returned to the Lower 48 for maintenance or upgrades. One has been pulled as a backup for future tests. And "several" — presumably two, based on publicly disclosed inventories — have exhibited problems and have been removed for "unscheduled maintenance."

Four other interceptors are based at Vandenberg.

Young said the defense bill proposes a rigorous missile defense test program. Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, has long been a critic of the deployment of the Fort Greely system before it was adequately tested. As a result, Levin has said, missiles have had to undergo expensive refurbishing as problems were discovered, and it still hasn’t undergone real-world tests.

Young said Begich joined with Levin and other members of the committee to urge the Missile Defense Agency to run at least two tests a year and to give a full report on its long-range testing and deployment plans.

There have only been three tests of operational missiles, the first in September 2006, the most recent in December 2008. In each one, the interceptor hit its target, a dummy warhead launched from Kodiak. But the attacking missiles lacked the sophistication a real attacker might display, such as assaulting at night or using decoys.

North Korea’s Taepodong 2 missile is theoretically capable of striking Alaska or Hawaii, though its tests have all been flops. Top U.S. defense and intelligence officials say there is little urgency in completing Fort Greely now because North Korea is at least three years away from a successful launch.

But with the possibility of a North Korean test in the direction of Hawaii on July 4, defenses on the island have been beefed up, primarily with detection equipment and interceptors designed to knock down warheads in their last minutes of flight.

The Alaska-based missiles are known as mid-course interceptors because they’re designed to crash into warheads above the atmosphere in the mid-range of their flight. They use three stages of solid-fueled rockets to reach altitude.

If launched from Greely, the spent first stage would likely fall over land in Alaska, though trajectories are designed to keep them away from populated areas, spokesman Scott said. The spent boosters weigh about 3,200 pounds, roughly the weight of a Chevy Impala.

Aside from the improvements at Fort Greely, the defense bill approved by the committee also grants a 3.4 percent pay increase to military service members, up from the 2.9 percent recommended by the administration. It also expands health care to service members and their dependents, according to Begich.


Find Richard Mauer online at or call 257-4345.


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