Missile defense is an opportunity for state

Posted: Sunday, April 16, 2000

America's initial national missile defense (NMD) capability is increasingly likely to be built in Alaska. Our superior geographic location on the planet is driving that decision in Washington, D.C. Alaskans also have a decision to make - how best to capitalize on this opportunity.

NMD is a $15 billion federal program to provide for the defense of the United States against an accidental or deliberate attack by a limited number of international ballistic missiles. The NMD program in Alaska will initially bring some $1 billion in construction to the state. Assets will probably include a command center and launch complex of 100 missiles near Delta Junction, radar on Shemya and near Anderson, and an alternate command center near Anchorage. Crewing the system will be the Alaska Army National Guard as part of its homeland defense mission. We should be proud that our neighbors and friends in the Alaska Guard will provide the military command and control for this system.

When complete in 2005-2007, some 300 new jobs will be created. The military will look to the private sector to contract for operating, testing, and repairing radars, missiles, data systems, telecommunications and software. NMD will also bring millions of dollars annually to Alaska for facilities, utilities, maintenance and transport. However, this is the tip of an economic iceberg, as the real revenue is in the commercialization of space and high technology applications. In 1995 the domestic U.S. revenue for commercial space activities exceeded $7 billion.

We don't want to merely lease our latitude, reaping only construction jobs and maintenance and service contracts. We must capitalize on the less readily apparent but enormous potential NMD poses for far greater, longer lasting impacts on Alaska's economy - by spawning spin-off benefits in the education and technology sectors.

America is in the midst of a transformation. The basis of our economic strength is more and more based on technology - especially information technology. At what pace will Alaska move forward from its territorial era, resource extraction dominated economy and join the dazzling and dizzying NASDAQ based new economy? Indeed, technological advancements have already allowed Alaskan industries to enhance exploration, production and transport of our abundant renewable and non-renewable natural resources. Such improvements have helped meet competition from other regions where resources may be cheaper to harvest or closer to markets.

Similar transformations elsewhere did not simply spring up until civic and business leaders of vision seized the opportunity. The economic opportunity before us is significant and unique. As Gov. Knowles said, ``Our location, coupled with emerging technologies and commercial applications in imagery, satellite management, launch and telecommunications, creates the opportunity for Alaska to become a technological hub of excellence.''

In addition to the business opportunities to construct and support NMD operations, many other opportunities will materialize to commercialize NMD technology. Lastly, our university can produce valuable information and research for military and commercial efforts in its labs and on its supercomputer while training the future high-technology work force.

How shall Alaska capitalize on this unparalleled opportunity? At Gov. Knowles' direction, we have formed a small administration team to put a framework around the opportunities that NMD presents to Alaskans across our state. In the near future we will invite our partners, the private sector, to join us in developing Alaska's strategy and business plan.

The strategy will also include partnerships with communities who have history and experience relevant to this opportunity for Alaska. We may look initially to North Dakota, New Mexico, Alabama, Oklahoma, Florida and Utah - states that have benefited from the recent growth in defense, space, science and technology industries. A formal partnership to include cabinet members, the university, chamber of commerce, legislative members and business and industry in Alaska will bear fruit for our move into a high-tech economy. There will be no great achievement without great effort and investment.

Any NMD work exported outside of Alaska is a business opportunity that is lost for Alaska. The springboard for sustained economic growth begins with the identification of services to sustain NMD and continues with the exploitation of commercial opportunities. Business opportunities may include some of the following possibilities:

Processing space surveillance data in Alaska.

Modeling high technology applications on the UAF supercomputer.

Increasing launches from the Kodiak Launch Complex.

Extending the NMD fiber-optic cable to the Far East and Hawaii.

Storing, maintaining, and testing additional interceptor rockets in Alaska.

Exploiting our competitive advantage of direct polar insertion.

Developing NMD related technologies.

Expanding imagery and remote sensing commerce.

Developing longer-term opportunities through the Alaska Science and Technology Foundation and the Alaska Human Resource Investment Council.

Alaska has always shown it will fulfill its national defense responsibilities, but we must now choose to meet our greater commercial, educational and technological destiny. This demands immediate, serious and sustained attention by a dedicated team of Alaskans. We look forward to working with many of you to fulfill these goals.

Brigadier General Phillip Oates and Deborah B. Sedgwick are the commissioners of the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs and the Department of Community and Economic Development, respectively.

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