World events accelerate development of missile-defense system at PMRF

Political instability in certain regions of the world, and threats that some countries considered enemies of the United States are rapidly building missile-launching capabilities, have prompted the U.S. government to speed up development of its missile defense program.

Such developments led U.S. Department of Defense officials to cancel remaining test launches of a missile system that will eventually be based at the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Missile Range Facility at Barking Sands, and move directly into the development phase.

PMRF as it stands now will become home to testing of the Theater High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system by federal fiscal year 2006 (Oct. 1, 2005-Sept. 30, 2006).

Long before that, though, facilities need to be built at the base to accommodate THAAD. A construction contract is supposed to go out to bid this month for such a facility, boosted by $23.4 million in the federal FY 2003 Military Construction Appropriations Bill.

“Over the past several years, the United States has become increasingly concerned about the possible proliferation of ballistic missiles and weapons of mass destruction in many of the world’s high-threat regions,” according to information from the U.S. Department of Defense Missile Defense Agency (MDA).

THAAD is designed to be a mobile, land-based, anti-missile system against short- and medium-range ballistic missiles, capable of launching missiles at enemy missiles to destroy them 100 miles or more from intended targets.

It has the capability of destroying enemy missiles inside and outside the earth’s atmosphere. It is anticipated that THAAD, along with other “missile-defense architecture, will provide near-leak-proof protection” for troops, population centers and other “assets,” the MDA notes.

Further, an aggressive U.S. missile defense is expected to “de-value ballistic missiles as strategic assets, thereby dissuading countries that desire a missile capability for aggressive purposes,” the MDA says.

The 11 earlier THAAD test launches were conducted at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, and more are planned there late next year. But by fiscal 2006, PMRF will be THAAD’s test facility, where tests will determine THAAD’s responses to various threat systems.

“If world events result in a decision to do so,” THAAD systems for use in real combat situations could be ready in fiscal 2006, according to information from the MDA.

More money for PMRF and the island has been pledged as a result of passage of the Fiscal Year 2003 Department of Defense Appropriations Bill, which includes over $60 million for programs at PMRF, and another $62 million for Office of Naval Research (ONR) programs on Kaua’i.

The ONR, along with top THAAD civilian contractor Lockheed Missiles & Space Company, are expected to be tenants in the second phase of the West Kauai Technology Center next to Waimea Canyon Park along Kaumuali’i Highway.

That facility now has a tentative blessing and dedication in April.

Construction on the THAAD facility at Barking Sands is projected to begin in April, and could be finished by next summer, said MDA’s Chris Taylor.

The project includes a new launch site and radar facility, maintenance support facility, central support facility, security fencing and lighting, and several buildings to accommodate up to 50 people, he said.

There are THAAD civilian program managers at PMRF already, though they were not available for comment this week.

The THAAD system is designed to be mobile (except for some radar components), capable of being loaded onto a C-130 or C-141 transport plane, and designed to use missiles to bring down enemy missiles over 100 miles from intended targets.

Now in its development phase, THAAD is part of a much-larger, Terminal Defense Segment of the MDA, which aims to take out enemy missiles during their terminal phases, or that one-minute window during which missiles re-enter the earth’s atmosphere.

The MDA has a $6.7-billion budget for fiscal year 2003, and was established in early 2001 by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, to manage development of effective missile defenses. U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Ronald T. Kadish is MDA director.

The program is managed by the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization and executed by the U.S. Army Program Executive Office, Air and Missile Defense, and the U.S. Army THAAD project manager in Huntsville, Ala.

“Proper barracks, homes, training grounds, administrative buildings, and base infrastructure are necessary for them (military personnel) to fulfill their mission of protecting and defending America,” said U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye (D, Hawai’i), a proponent of the missile defense system and supporter of the various federal appropriations funding it.

An environmental assessment conducted by MDA recently concluded that the construction and operation of the THAAD facility at PMRF would have no significant impact on the environment.

Another finding of no significant impact was released regarding an environmental assessment considering PMRF as a launch site for missiles to test North Pacific radar and sensors.

Staff Writer Paul C. Curtis can be reached at mailto:pcurtis@pulitzer.net or 245-3681 (ext. 224).

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