Bill could move missile silo field forward

Posted: Monday, June 29, 2009

ANCHORAGE - A bill approved last week by the Senate Armed Services Committee could push forward construction of a third silo field at Fort Greely.

U.S. Sen. Mark Begich said it could be that Alaska's elected officials have been able to alter at least a part of the administration's efforts to scale back some missile defense programs.

The 2010 National Defense Authorization Act, the mammoth annual military programs bill, will direct the administration to finish the first half of the new missile field, according to Lindsay Young, Begich's military legislative assistant.

In return for completing seven of the 14 proposed silos in Missile Field 2, the bill would authorize shutting down the existing six silos of the original missile field there, Young said.

Begich, a Democrat, and U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, had been urging the administration to make fully operational all 40 silos originally planned for Fort Greely.

Problems like mold and water leaks are now showing up in Missile Field 1 because of its hasty construction in 2004, Young said. While that field is operational, it will grow increasingly expensive to maintain, she said.

A newer field, designated Missile Field 3 and containing 20 operational silos, is in better shape, she said. Four silos are also located at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

The Obama administration mothballed the partially built Missile Field 2.

Fort Greely, near Delta Junction, is home of most of the Ground Based Interceptor missiles. The missiles could be launched, with uncertain success, against a ballistic warhead streaking toward the United States from North Korea or Iran.

The Senate Armed Services Committee, of which Begich is a member, completed a closed-door markup of the defense bill Thursday. It won't be publicly filed until Congress returns from the Fourth of July recess.

Begich issued a statement Friday containing information about the bill.

"The agreement we reached will ensure that Alaska continues to serve as America's front lines of defense against rogue nations," Begich said. "This will allow the (Defense) Department to build a more modernized and sophisticated capability than currently exists there today."

Young said the $680 billion defense bill doesn't suggest how much money the Missile Defense Agency would need for the new silos, but Begich will likely propose $82 million when the bill comes before the full Senate. The money can't be spent until it's appropriated in a separate bill, but Alaska has some muscle in the Senate Appropriations Committee: Murkowski is a member and its chairman, Sen. Dan Inouye, D-Hawaii, is a longtime Alaska friend and a missile-defense proponent.

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