Alaska has a significant role in the post-Sept. 11 defense of the United States, according to top military leaders who were scheduled to address a legislative committee in Juneau this afternoon.
Lt. Gen. Norty Schwartz, commander of the Alaskan Command, and Maj. Gen. Bill Nance, program executive officer for the Missile Defense Agency under the U.S. Department of Defense, said the military will be "a good neighbor" during its two-year program to establish the Ballistic Missile Defense System Test Bed, including multiple sites in Alaska.
"Missile defense is an immense challenge - as tough a job as our nation has ever undertaken," Nance said in remarks prepared for delivery to the Joint Armed Services Committee of the Legislature. "In my view, it is as complex a task as the Manhattan Project or the Apollo moon-landing program."
"Clearly, Alaska will play a significant role in future defense of the nation," said Schwartz, the top-ranking military officer stationed in Alaska.
In an interview, Nance and Schwartz said the goal is to use ground-, air-, water- and even space-based systems to sense missile launches and prevent attacks, particularly by rogue nations.
"We need to be able to attack a missile in all phases of flight," Nance said.
Sites at Fort Greely, near Delta Junction, Kodiak Island and Shemya Island, in the Aleutian chain, would supplement existing test range sites from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California to the Marshall Islands southwest of Hawaii.
The plan calls for a command center and five silo-based missiles at Fort Greely, test launches from Kodiak aimed at target missiles fired from California or above the western Pacific, and possibly an advanced radar installation in Shemya.
This year, the Department of Defense expects construction expenditures alone to amount to $198 million at Fort Greely, $48 million at Shemya and $8 million at Kodiak.
Schwartz said the military will comply with all environmental review procedures at the federal, state and local levels. "The idea here is to do it all according to Hoyle but to do it expeditiously."
He's also calling on legislators to support a request by Gov. Tony Knowles for state funding of the Alaska Land Mobile Radio System, which would establish a joint communications system for emergency responders at all levels of government.
"Basically it provides a level of capability across the spectrum of crisis response - a capability the state and DOD do not presently enjoy," Schwartz said.
The governor's request from legislators this session is for about $20 million, 90 percent of which would be federally passed through funds, according to Julie Stinson in the Department of Administration. Over time, the state would be responsible for $55 million in state funds and federal grants for the "backbone" of the project and the equipment. The Department of Defense is expected to kick in $50 million, other federal agencies $17 million, and local governments an optional $29 million.
Bill McAllister can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. This article includes material from the Associated Press.