Navy: PMRF a ‘national treasure’

The Navy on Kaua‘i is “absolutely vital,” says Rear Adm. Townsend “Tim” Alexander, commander of the Navy’s Hawai‘i region.

Alexander spoke to Kaua‘i Chamber of Commerce members Thursday at Duke’s Canoe Club in honor of Military Appreciation Month.

He said the Pacific Missile Range Facility at Barking Sands is a “national treasure” because it permits testing and evaluation as well as research and development of the Navy’s ongoing missile defense work.

The Missile Defense Agency uses the range multiple times a year to test the capabilities of both the Navy’s sea-based Aegis ballistic missile defense and the Army’s Terminal High Altitude Air Defense systems.

“(PMRF) will always be a leader in the development of this capability,” Alexander said. “I don’t see that changing. As we get into more missile defense, I see more of it coming this way.”

Aegis tests to date have been largely successful — so much so that Japan completed its own test, with U.S. support, at the base on Dec. 17.

In 2007, the facility was operating at or near capacity in regards to testing. The next Aegis launch is set for tomorrow at the range.

In addition to serving as a missile defense testing site, PMRF offers more than 1,100 square miles of instrumented underwater range and over 42,000 square miles of controlled airspace. It’s the world’s largest instrumented multi-environment range capable of supporting surface, subsurface, air and space operations simultaneously.

Alexander said for those reasons PMRF is vital to sailor and Marine training so they are versed in necessary skills before deployment.

More and more, the Navy experiences encroachment on its training areas or increased density around them, making training difficult, Alexander said.

“Preserving what we have here at PMRF and the ability to train is absolutely vital,” he said.

Economic impact

PMRF’s day-to-day operations pump about $130 million into the local economy annually. That figure doesn’t include the surge of activity surrounding each missile defense test, which generates an additional $30 million each year.

Each test brings an average of 500 people to the island, many of whom stay in hotels, shop in stores and eat in restaurants.

In addition, the range is one of Kaua‘i’s largest employers with nearly 1,000 active duty Navy, government, civil service and contract civilians, and Hawai‘i Air National Guard members. PMRF’s prime contractor, ITT Services, has approximately 500 employees who support the base.

Given PMRF’s role on Kaua‘i, Alexander said he’s proud of the relationship the base has with the community. PMRF works with Habitat for Humanity, collaborates with area schools on math and science programs, and is the largest business contributor to the Kaua‘i Food Bank.

The Navy in Hawai‘i

PMRF is one of two Navy installations in Hawai‘i, the other being Pearl Harbor on O‘ahu.

According to Alexander, Hawai‘i is home to 16,000 active duty sailors, 20,000 family members, and employs 10,000 civilians. In terms of vessels, Navy Region Hawai‘i has 11 surface combatants and 16 submarines.

Its economic impact on the state is more than $2 billion annually, including $1 billion in salaries and $1 billion in operations, contracts and local purchases. In addition, retired Navy personnel residing in Hawai‘i receive approximately $48.5 million in retiree pay annually.

Alexander noted that 70 percent of the planet is water, 80 percent of the world’s population lives near a coast, and 90 percent of global commerce travels by sea, according to the Navy.

“If you can understand that, you can understand the importance of a Navy that’s credible and trained,” Alexander said.

• Blake Jones, business writer/assistant editor, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 251) or bjones@kauaipubco.com

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