Radar array placed in Juneau

Posted: Sunday, June 01, 2008

The U.S. Missile Defense Agency on Saturday placed a powerful, mobile radar station in Juneau. The radar array is designed to take part in testing how well this country can knock threatening warheads from the sky.

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Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire

The three tractor-trailer-sized radar units and support equipment were unloaded and placed by construction workers at the Ted Stevens Marine Research Institute at Lena Point, a short distance from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration building.

Sometime in mid-July, a missile is scheduled to launch from Kodiak and race south over the Pacific Ocean, according to Maj. Gen. Patrick O'Reilly, deputy director of the MDA. The two-star Army general was present for part of the radar's installation.

An intercepting missile may be fired from Vandenberg Airforce Base in California to attempt to destroy the missile launched from Kodiak, MDA spokesman Ralph Scott said.

The job of the radar in Juneau will be to track the first part of the Kodiak missile's flight, O'Reilly said.

The radar array will remain in place until mid-August if the missile from Kodiak is launched on time, according to O'Reilly.

He said the more than $100 million radar array had a range of greater than 1,800 miles and was designed to track short-range missiles.

The radar was originally scheduled to arrive last year and the missile test was supposed to have occurred earlier this year. But delays with the intercepting missile program are responsible for the later test date, O'Reilly said.

He said the MDA and Marine Research Institute would evaluate using the present location to house the radar units before deciding whether to use the site again in the future. The radar units would not be permanently housed in Juneau, O'Reilly said.

"That's part of the test, is the ability to show that we're mobile," O'Reilly said, adding that the MDA is interested in returning for future tests.

Marine Research Institute Director Phil Mundy said he was pleased with the partnership between his agency and MDA so far. The radar array will be powered by the city's electric utility, Alaska Electric Power & Light Co., and the electrical infrastructure upgrades used to power the radar will be available to bolster the institute's power after the tests are completed, Mundy said.

An estimated 30 to 40 people will operate the radar array. Support staff include security guards employed by Chenega Blackwater Solutions, which is a partnership between an Anchorage-based Native Company and the embattled private security firm that's drawn fire for its operations in Iraq.

Last year, a few community members spoke out against Juneau hosting the radar array and participating in missile testing.

But O'Reilly said Juneau should be proud to play a part of the tests.

"Part of our requirement as a government is to protect our citizens, and this is a crucial piece of equipment for our military," he said. "It's part of our obligation to support the military, as the military supports the country."

• Contact reporter Alan Suderman at 523-2268 or e-mail alan.suderman@juneauempire.com.

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