Alaska construction can proceed

PHOTO/Lisa Seifert/For the Journal
ANCHORAGE -- Construction of a missile defense system in Alaska can proceed with President Bush’s decision to withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with Russia, state and federal officials said Dec. 13.

"That certainly was the biggest obstacle," said Chris Nelson, a missile defense expert with the state Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.

Bush’s announcement came as a congressional conference committee was putting the finishing touches on a defense authorization bill that includes $786 million for construction of a missile test bed in the North Pacific.

Some of that money would be used to deploy test interceptors to new silos at Fort Greely near Delta Junction, said Lt. Col. Rick Lehner of the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization. The federal money would also include upgrades for the state-funded rocket launching site in Kodiak, which will be used for anti-missile tests under the administration’s plan.

The Bush plan announced last summer would convert the Fort Greely test facility into a rudimentary missile defense system by 2004 if tests are successful. However, the 1972 ABM treaty allowed testing only, so the groundbreaking in Alaska could have been considered a treaty violation.

The president’s announcement will allow construction in Alaska to begin next spring with no risk of a violation, state and federal officials said.

"The phrase you always heard for the last year and a half is what point do you bump up against the treaty," Nelson said. "We see a clear path ahead."

The Alaska plan calls for basing a command center and five silo-based missiles at Fort Greely. In addition interceptors would be launched from Kodiak for test shots at target missiles launched from California or from the air above the western Pacific, Lehner said.

Kodiak would also be used to launch target missiles toward the Lower 48 to test interceptors launched from California, he said.

Plans for an advanced radar installation at Shemya in the Aleutian Islands are on hold, according to state and federal officials. The radar link could end up there or in Hawaii, Nelson said.

12/23/2001 - 8:00pm