With the demise of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty this week, U.S. defense officials plan to begin construction of test facilities for a missile interceptor system Saturday, June 15, in Alaska.
Officials of the Missile Defense Agency are quick to point out that even when completed two years from now, the so-called test bed at the former Army base is not intended to be an operational missile intercept facility.
But the location in central Alaska is what a Pentagon statement terms "an optimum location" for an operational system if a formal decision is made to deploy a ground-based missile interceptor force. The interceptors would be ideally positioned to target any incoming missiles from such potential adversaries as North Korea or China.
Lieutenant Colonel Rick Lehner is a spokesman for the Missile Defense Agency. In a telephone interview Thursday from Alaska, he told VOA about the ground-breaking plans. "What we intend to do is to build six silos and some support facilities, including a command and control center, and to use that facility as part of our, what we call, a test bed in the northern Pacific. Which means that we will probably have five interceptors at Ft. Greely and we will do all the ground testing necessary to determine how well that system would work if it was operational," Mr. Lehner said.
Colonel Lehner said the test interceptors might later be transferred to a state-owned commercial launch site at Kodiak Island in Alaska for actual test firings. But he said no launches are contemplated, for the moment, from Ft. Greely itself.
Current tests involve launches of target missiles from California, with interceptors launched from Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific - one of two authorized U.S. test sites under the ABM treaty, the other being in New Mexico. So far there have been six tests with four successful in-flight intercepts.
The Missile Defense Spokesman said the construction of the new test facility at Ft. Greely had to await formal U.S. withdrawal from the 1972 pact.
"Well, the ABM treaty says that you cannot develop or test or deploy a missile defense system to protect your entire national territory and ultimately that is the goal of this type of missile defense is to be able to protect all 50 states. Actually it is mandated by the Missile Defense Act of 1999 which the President signed, saying that the United States would deploy a missile defense as soon as technologically feasible. The whole purpose of this test program is to learn how to make that technology feasible," he said.
The next test of the multi-billion dollar long-range interceptor system is planned for mid-August, using the existing Pacific facilities.