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The Inside Story-Alaska: America's Strategic Frontier TRANSCRIPT

The Inside Story: Alaska Strategic Frontier Episode.



Alaska: America’s Strategic Frontier

Join us on a journey to the 49th state and see why the United States military has such a significant presence here.

Strap into a fighter jet and learn about the American missile defense system.

Plus, a look at Alaska's statehood and geography.

Now on The Inside Story …Alaska…America’s Strategic Frontier.



Hi. I’m Carla Babb, VOA Pentagon Correspondent and I am at ______ in Alaska ---- commonly called America’s last frontier

Alaska is the 49th of the 50 US states, admitted in January 1959.

It’s perhaps the most mysterious of the America’s states because of its remote location in the uppermost northwest part of the hemisphere.

[[FS G]]

Alaska borders no other U.S. state --- attached to the continent with a border with Canada.

It’s also big.

How big?

Texas was the biggest U.S. state before Alaska was admitted --- and you can fit all of Texas inside Alaska with plenty of room to spare.


Alaska’s size and location provides many strategic advantages for the U.S. to base a good deal of national security assets here.

As well, Alaska’s size and location provides plenty of challenges for the U.S. to base a good deal of national security assets here.

I will take you inside both the challenges and the strategic advantages of Alaska.

The best way to show you isn’t here on the ground.

Follow me into the sky.

((NAT 40:18 Pilot Bond—"Here we go”))


Soaring in an F-16 at the top of the world.

((40:28 NAT: All right, here comes the afterburner. Feel it? Me: I feel it!))

Backseat with the U.S. Air Force …

((flip 1:13:31 nats laughing))

over America’s last frontier, Alaska.

((shot of F-35 from my go pro))

At times flying faster than the speed of sound …

((1:09:50-55 “We are now supersonic”))

((F-35 from my GoPro))

an F-35 — America’s newest stealth jet — beside us.

((360 shot, then Denali))

A sea of snow-covered peaks below — the tallest in North America. The majestic Denali, nearby.

My pilot, Major Lloyd Wright — call sign “Bond” — has navigated these skies for the last seven years.

((Maj. Lloyd “Bond” Wright, U.S. Air Force)) ((talking in jet))

“This is the best airspace to fly in … absolutely a national treasure.”

((take Gs nat, then F-16 shot looping around))

But American fighter jets aren’t here for the views.


“The military calls this strategic airspace. We’ve just arrived at the Arctic Circle. From here, fighter jets can reach anywhere in the Northern Hemisphere in a single flight.”

((transition aerial shot with nat))

((Col. David “Ajax” Berkland, Eielson Air Force Base Commander))

((17:24:41-53, 17:25:01-07)) “And it's hard to understand that looking at a normal map that stretches Alaska out over the top of the map. But when you look at a globe// ((start globe graphic)) It becomes very apparent how close we are to really anything in the Northern Hemisphere.”

((NARRATOR)) ((Yass is creating now-- really cool globe graphic for me))

Europe is just across the Arctic Ocean.

Mainland Alaska is less than 100 kilometers from Russia,

((Orient the graphic globe down to show Hawaii, too))

And Asia is just across the Pacific …

((Col. David “Ajax” Berkland, Eielson Air Force Base Commander))

((17:24:41-48) “We are closer to the Indo-Pacific than they are sitting in Hawaii.”

((NARRATOR)) ((Chinese army, then NK missile launch video))

… with growing fears of Chinese and North Korean attacks.

((NARRATOR)) ((shot of Eielson sign))

A few years ago, the Defense Department was looking to close most of Eielson.

((Seamus Daniels, CSIS))

“DOD argued that the cost to operate and maintain Eielson was expensive due to the environment, the climate, in Alaska. And ultimately, they proposed a major realignment.

((Sen. Dan Sullivan, Alaska))

“Airspace larger than Florida, right here in Alaska, right behind me, and all of that was on the chopping block.”

((NARRATOR)) (shot of Carla walking with Sullivan),

Alaska Senator Dan Sullivan tells VOA the people of Fairbanks, the city closest to Eielson, pushed back.

((NARRATOR)) ((commission footage 2005))


So did an independent commission set up to evaluate the Pentagon’s proposed base changes.

((Seamus Daniels, CSIS))

“The commission rejected DoD’s recommendation because they found that it wouldn't actually generate the original savings expected, //and the commission also argued that Eielson was important because it has great air ranges and extensive complexes.”

((NARRATOR)) ((another takeoff, then aerial footage, 7:20 hook from front of aircraft in F-16 footage))

After downsizing, Eielson failed to take off. The Air Force did a full 180, ((nat of accelerating in plane)) ordering its training squadron of F-16s to stay put …

((DOD of F-35s:

((Courtesy: DOD))

… while deciding to station not one, but two new squadrons of 5th-generation F-35 stealth fighters here in 2016.

((Carla Babb, VOA News))

((STANDUP 2 in F-35 hangar 0363))

“Six years and 54 of these F-35s later, Eielson is a combat-ready base equipped to fight at a moment’s notice.”

((NARRATOR)) ((F-35 footage inside hangar, flight line footage, hangar footage))

These combat aircraft are worth about $5 trillion, and the Pentagon has spent $600 million building more runways, more hangars, more fuel tanks, more upgrades to accommodate the new jets and new people.

((F-35 taxiing on runway with nats))

((Maj. Lloyd “Bond” Wright, U.S. Air Force))

((*17:11:58-17:12:11 loud planes rolling in behind us))

“Case in point. It’s always busy here. There’s only ever about 20 minutes where there's not an airplane flying around out here. So, it's really grown exponentially.”

((NARRATOR)) ((warehouse with Stew))

But as Colonel Stew Williamson knows firsthand, it’s a struggle just living, yet alone operating and expanding in the remote arctic environment.

((Col. Stew Williamson, 354th Mission Support Group Commander))

“Its entire crazy climate change from minus-50 degrees all the way up to 80 degrees or 26 degrees Celsius.”


An environment that military planners say will continue to cause even more costly and dangerous problems as permafrost underground slowly melts amid global warming.

((Carla Babb, VOA News, Eielson AFB))


Fragile and frosty one way to describe Alaska’s environment and the challenges it poses for the Pentagon.

Before that, let me give you a little more background about Alaska, its people, its wildlife and what makes it America’s final frontier.


((mandatory cg The Universal Archives))


“In the White House, President ((Dwight D.)) Eisenhower signs a proclamation that makes Alaska’s entry into the Union official.”


January third, 1959, Alaska joins the U.S. as the 49th state. Flag makers quickly got to work adding an extra star in a seven-by-seven pattern.


Alaska is the largest of the 50 states boasting nearly one-and-a-half-million square kilometers of territory despite having a population about the same as Washington D.C, which covers only fraction at about 176-square-kilometers.



Its capital city, Juneau, is roughly six-thousand kilometers from the nation’s capital.

Alaska is also home to a handful of military bases and is of strategic importance as it’s just north of 75-hundred kilometers from Asia and at its closest point, only 88 kilometers from Russia.



The nation’s 49th state is home to more than one-thousand vertebrate species, which often land in political crosshairs over drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Alaska is known as America’s Last Frontier for its remote location and vastly unsettled land. ((ARASH ARABASADI, VOA NEWS))












((NAT 41:20 Good morning, Mig!)) ((2 flips 1:29:50))

Back in the air with the U.S. Air Force...

((NAT: We’re supersonic again. No big deal.))

((1:10:01-05 Me looking to camera saying—"we are faster than the speed of sound!))

((aerial shot)) the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex, covering nearly 200,000 square kilometers of Alaska’s air space.

We are flying at NATO’s western flank with Russia, in what is also the closest U.S. state to Beijing.

((video from Russia, then video of China))

Neither power is afraid to flex its muscles— Russia invading Ukraine; China threatening war over Taiwan.

((Shot of me with Alaskan Sen Sullivan))

Bully moves that need deterring, Alaskan Senator Dan Sullivan tells VOA.

((Sen. Dan Sullivan, Republican, Alaska))

“It's not just great power competition. It's authoritarian, dictatorship, aggression. //And Alaska can play a huge role in making sure we're ready for it.”

((NARRATOR)) ((flight line and aerial shots))

To prepare? War Games. Eielson Air Force Base hosts multiple Red Flag Alaska exercises each year, training thousands of U.S. forces along with allies from across the globe.

((Col. Greg Hunger, U.S. Air Force))

“So, this Flag [right word?] we have Canada and we’ve got the United Kingdom. // This year we're incorporating Singapore and we'll bring in New Zealand and Australia.”

((NARRATOR)) ((aerial shots from VOA, then shot of us again, then shot of fighter jets flying from Burke))

Alaska is more than double the size of Texas with a population only about the size of Washington, D.C., so pilots have most of this Last Frontier airspace all to themselves.

((NAT from flight line, show multiple in air at same time))

The size of the range allows virtually all 90 aircraft to share the same airspace at the same time.

((NARRATOR)) ((shot of Bonds patch, then his helmet))

The training is as close to reality as possible. My pilot, Maj. Lloyd Wright, call sign Bond, donning Communist red stars from shoulder to helmet.

((Maj. Lloyd “Bond” Wright, U.S. Air Force))

“We’re usually pretending to be Russian, Chinese or North Korean airplanes.”

((Nat **1:09:05 Found him…take some Gs…Mig 2 and 4 talking))

Back in the air, the dogfight is on. ((MiG 1:05:56 MiG 1 to MiG 3)

It’s a team of American F-35s against Bond and the rest of the MiGs—a tongue-in-cheek reference to the Russian- made MiG fighters. [I don’t get the joke]

((Maj. Lloyd “Bond” Wright, U.S. Air Force))

“Today our mission is to try and bomb the F-35s defended asset list. // I am doing my best to do the tactics and all the airframe abilities and disabilities of our adversaries. And we’re going to try to penetrate our Blue F-35s defensive mission set.”

((NAT: 49:32 Aircraft Flips then Bond says, “We got ‘em”))

((NARRATOR)) (my go pro shot of missile, then show the flare drop, then turn))

The weapons in Red Flag are not real, but the responses mimic real combat…

((NAT “Fast Flare”, then Mig next to us dropping flare))


With simulated threats above and below.

((Maj. Lloyd “Bond” Wright, U.S. Air Force))

41:44:50 “So off to your right that’s the restricted area, the bombing area. There’s also surface to air missile systems in there.”

((NARRATOR)) ((F-16 shot))

The so-called 18th Aggressors are masters of the terrain. Bond has flown here for seven years.

((Maj. Lloyd “Bond” Wright, U.S. Air Force))

((1:45:41)) So during Red Flag we’ll fly down these river valleys and try to make it to the target areas. Or when Blue Air tries to do it, they’ll fly into these river valleys. So, it’s really fun to try to find them and kill them before they make it to their targets.”

((Carla Babb, VOA))

“That’s a fun game of hide and seek.”

((Maj. Lloyd “Bond” Wright))

“It’s like the most expensive game of hide and seek, laser tag you’ve ever heard of.”

((**2FLIPS - 1:29:50 You wanna go upside down? Uh, yes! Flips one way then other—great shot!—nat 1:11:50 “It’s kinda fun being the bad guy”))

((NARRATOR)) ((shots aerial mixed with other Burke shots from Friday))

Bond says training with international allies here shows the United States is not alone, even in the remote Alaskan wilderness.

((Maj. Lloyd “Bond” Wright, U.S. Air Force))

((1:28:47-57)) “It’s always a challenge with language difficulties, but I’d rather learn that here in training than trying to integrate in real combat, you know?”

((Lt. Col. Greg Hunger, U.S. Air Force))

((0939 3:30-39)) “So, the problems that occur usually, we see week one get fixed in week two, so that if they went to combat week three, those things are all resolved.”

((NARRATOR)) ((more good VOA original shots from Ukraine, the best broll of Berkland))

And with worries Russia could be inching the globe to the brink of World War III, base commander Col. David. Berkland, whose spent his more than 20-year career flying both the F-16 and the F-35, says Eielson’s strategic importance is growing.

((Col. David “Ajax” Berkland, Eielson Air Force Base Commander))

((17:30:46-04))“Well, it just makes everything that goes on here at Eielson that much more, much more real, much more relevant, I think to the global situation. And so, it keeps us very much involved in what's going on.”

((NARRATOR)) ((landing shot))

A major reason why exercises like these will continue.



The U.S. used the arctic as a growing

Area of competition between Russia and China.

Particularly as climate change brings warmer

Temperatures that open economic and military

Valuable sea lanes for longer periods of time.

But officials have acknowledged that the U.S. lags...

Behind those nations. So the U.S. Army has revamped...

Its forces in the last in Alaska.

Raising a new 11th Airborne Division to better prepare for

Future cold weather conflicts. The change will replace Alaska’s

Heavy striker brigades with a light infantry unit better suited for operating in the Arctic.

I sat down with Army Chief of Staff...

General James McConvile on the day he stood up the division...

At for Waynewright and Joint Base Elmondorf Richardson.

To discuss what the new division will Bring.






One of the biggest military concerns …

About Russia and China ..

Is their nuclear weapon stock pile..

The U.S. Russia and China all keep ..

Enough nuclear the arsenals..

To end civilization...

Should Vladimir Putin or Xi Jinping..

Decide to launch hundreds of nuclear weapons..

The U.S. alone could not stop all of them.

I could only fire back likely leading to mutually assured.

Destruction of all parties.

But the U.S. can defend against a limited nuclear attack ..

From a rogue nation like North Korea.

A looming threat as Pyongyang this year..

Tested its first ICBM since 2017

And continues a provocative streak in weapons administrations...

We take you inside two military bases in Alaska...

Key to that defense.




((Mandatory chyron: Drill))

Team Member: “Implement site reporting. Implement site reporting.”

Team Member: “This is Clear. Stand by for site reporting. Have you received an LMPI?”


A presumed intercontinental ballistic missile—an ICBM—just launched from North Korean territory…

((Courtesy: Missile Defense Agency))

Space-based radar sound the alarm.

Now this team at Clear Space Force Station in Alaska must quickly verify it with their ground-based radar.


Team member: System status? System stable?

Team member: Copy and concur. This is Clear, site reporting is valid. Number of objects is one.”


This North Korea launch is just a drill, declassified for VOA to show how Clear Space Force Station serves as a virtual detection shield.

((end drill chyron))

Team member: “We like to say that we’re the 300 on this base protecting the 300 million.”


But deputy base commander Maj. Dave Kim tells me those launches are part of life here with North Korea firing 16 ballistic missiles this year, including an ICBM launch that Clear confirmed in March.

((Maj. Dave Kim, Deputy Commander of Clear Space Force Station))

“We're watching them 24/7. We see what they do.// I like to describe this job as a no-fail mission. There's zero room for error. Absolutely none.”


((Mandatory courtesy: Missile Defense Agency))

ICBM payloads separate in space, creating complex debris fields.


The space force station’s current ground-based radar can track space objects up to 5,000 km away,

((Courtesy: Missile Defense Agency))

but the image isn’t clear, making it difficult to pick out an incoming warhead.

So, the U.S. government built a $1.5 billion tool for its tracking arsenal—the new Long Range Discrimination Radar, or LRDR.

VOA got a rare look inside LRDR. The technology in these panels, officials say, makes it the most sophisticated radar on the planet.

((Maj. Dave Kim, Deputy Commander of Clear Space Force Station))

((Courtesy: Missile Defense Agency))

“LRDR is able to look into that adversarial threat cloud and differentiate which object is the warhead that we want to hit. If I could compare it to anything it would be watching regular TV versus 4K or 8K.”

((Courtesy: Department of Defense))

But tracking alone won’t stop a missile.

((Lt. Col. Chris Stutz, Alaska National Guard))

“We have to do a hit to kill and that's something we can do.”


Lt. Col. Chris Stutz commands the missile defense battalion at Fort Greely, Alaska, overseeing soldiers who protect 40 of these ICMB-killing missiles, known as Ground Based Interceptors, in silos deep underground.

((Lt. Col. Chris Stutz, Alaska National Guard))

“We'll see that incoming threat and, if we are authorized to engage then, our weapon system will send a task plan, if you will, to however many missiles that we need to service that incoming threat, these clam shells will explode open, and that missile will launch.”


((Courtesy: Department of Defense))

To date interceptors have hit just 10 of 19 targets, a 53% success rate. But Ian Williams of the Center for Strategic and International Studies calls that misleading.

((Ian Williams, Center for Strategic and International Studies))

“If you actually drill down, a lot of the tests’ failures were in very early prototype models that are not the models that are currently deployed today. In fact, if you look at the model, the kill vehicle models, that are on the interceptors today, there's only been one failure.”


The government just constructed 20 new silos here. VOA is the first news outlet to go inside one.

((Carla Babb, VOA News (standup version)))

“Take a look at this. This is the inside of one of the new missile silos that’s going to house the Next Generation Interceptor. Those should be operational around 2028 and they are going to be a more advanced version of the current interceptors here at Fort Greely.”


The biggest advancement? Each new Next Generation Interceptor, or NGI, housed here will have multiple kill vehicles, the part of the missile used to take out a warhead.

((Ian Williams, Center for Strategic and International Studies))

“And what that means is by having multiple kill vehicles on one interceptor, you don't have to fire as many interceptors at a single object.”


A reassurance as threats from North Korea continue, and these bases nestled in the Alaskan wilderness remain America’s last line of defense.



That’s all the time we have for now.

Stay up to date on Facebook and Instagram at VOANews.

Read more about my Alaska reporting trip on and follow me on Twitter at CarlaBabbVOA.

See you next week for The Inside Story.