Range has new captain

MANA — A day before the scheduled second test of the U.S. Army THAAD missile system at the Barking Sands Pacific Missile Range Facility, United States Navy Capt. Aaron Cudnohufsky assumed command of the testing range.

“It will be my first missile test where I am in command of the range,” Cudnohufsky said yesterday, about today’s scheduled launch. “I was here for a couple tests of the Aegis system under Capt. Darrah.”

THAAD stands for Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, and differs from the Aegis missile in that it is land based, with development by the Army.

The Navy oversees the ocean-launched Aegis system.

A year and a day after Capt.Mark Darrah took control of the range on April 3, 2006, the 23rd command of the base was turned over to Cudnohufsky, some 60 years after its creation as a training ground for Army troops.

“This command is a lot of responsibility with national importance,” Cudnohufsky said.

The command of national importance came of age at the range in the 1950s when the nuclear-capable Regulus cruise missile was first tested at Barking Sands.

“The base has come a long way from the days when a trailer with telemetry was set up to track Sputnik,” said outgoing commander Darrah, about the days when the

Russian satellite in the late 1950s ushered in the space race.

Commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, Adm. Gary Roughead, the guest speaker at the change of command ceremony, called PMRF a “unique place” that was home to Polaris missile system testing as well.

The Lockheed developed, two-stage solid-fuel nuclear-armed ballistic missile was launched from submarines as a major deterrent to the threat of nuclear annihilation during the Cold War.

“Last July with the multiple launches of the Taepodong and Nodong missiles from North Korea the relevance of your extraordinary work here was thrust to the forefront again,” Roughead said.

PMRF spokesman Tom Clements said the Barking Sands range does not have operational capabilities, meaning any missile launches are merely for testing, training and research and development purposes only.

“For instance, with the THAAD system, the Missile Defense Agency handles the program, they are our customers, and we manage the range,” Clements said.

Lockheed is the prime contractor on the Army’s THAAD system, so they are another customer, he said.

Once a system has been sufficiently developed for operations, it is turned over to the operations group and leaves the island.

The commander’s main task at Barking Sands is ensuring the safe operation of the range. “We have up to a million square miles of testing range that we make available,” Clements said.

“I am honored, blessed and privileged to be entrusted with this command,” said Cudnohufsky. “I am ready to meet these challenges.”

The father of three boys comes to Kaua‘i from Virginia where he was assigned to the Pentagon as the executive assistant to the director, Navy staff of OPNAV — Office of the Chief of Naval Operations.

Cudnohufsky was a pilot of the now obsolete F-14D Super Tomcat. He has accrued over 3,400 flight hours, over 800 carrier landings and 50 combat missions.

When asked what is more frightening, a carrier landing or assuming command of a missile test range, Cudnohufsky said chuckling, “They’re both exciting, they both have their own challenges.”

He feels his biggest challenges on Kaua‘i will be the continued development of people at the base to continue the extraordinary work, to maintain the right people to do the work and to reach out to the community, while being a part of it.

Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawai‘i, attended the ceremony and says he likes the young man, Capt. Cudnohufsky. “Here we have another incredible young man coming forward with good credentials to protect our nation,” Akaka said. “It marks an important time in our history, and this base has value for the greatness of our country.”

It was Akaka’s first change of command ceremony at the base.

“Mark (Darrah) did a phenomenal job here,” Adm. Roughead said. “His short time here attests to the fact the Navy sees his potential … but I know that Aaron will pick up and take off with the baton and do great things here.”

Within 18 months, 16 Navy ships in the region will be equipped with the Aegis missile system, Roughead said, a fact directly attributable to the Barking Sands testing development.

“The captain is the linchpin of the range allowing the testing and capabilities development,” Roughead said. “He ensures the safety of the training and there is a great team here.”

Darrah leaves the base after being selected to return to the Naval Air Systems Command in Patuxent River, Maryland, to assume command of the F/A-18 and EA-18G program.

Also known as PMA-265, it is the Navy’s largest aviation acquisition program with management of over 1,000 F/A-18 aircraft and a $5.5 billion budget.

Cudnohufsky, 45, will be joined on Kaua‘i by his wife Laurie and sons, Shawn, Corry and Tyler after the school year ends in Virginia.

Cudnohufsky is a 1984 graduate of Northern Michigan

University with a bachelor’s degree in industry and technology.

He entered flight school in the Navy not long after.

He has been deployed on the aircraft carriers Abraham Lincoln, Independence and John C. Stennis.

He earned his master’s in national security and strategic studies from the Naval Command and Staff College in Newport, R.I., in March 1998.

• Adam Harju, editor, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 227) or aharju@kauaipubco.com.

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