Alaska Editorial: Missile defense system a good thing for Alaska

Posted: Sunday, July 02, 2006

The following editorial appeared in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

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There's some comfort in knowing that a missile launched by the unstable leader of North Korea might not get a free ride across the atmosphere to someplace in Hawaii, the Western United States - or Alaska. Or even Fairbanks.

The U.S. missile defense system out at Fort Greely, about 100 miles south of Fairbanks, isn't perfect and isn't intended to be just yet. It has what's described as, and has been described as for a long time, a "limited" ability to knock out incoming enemy missiles.

U.S. National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley made the statement again last week.

"We have a missile defense system ... what we call a long-range missile defense system that is basically a research, development, training, test kind of system," he said in national news reports. "It does ... have some limited operational capability. And the purpose, of course, of a missile defense system is to defend ... the territory of the United States from attack."

Launching a counter-missile out of Fort Greely is one of the options on the table for dealing with the North Korean threat, although some have said a launch from the Alaska site is a slim possibility. That may be because many doubt the system's ability to even knock out a missile, which the U.S. system would aim to do by collision with the incoming missile rather than by the use of explosives. The United States, they say, wouldn't want the embarrassment of a missile missing its mark.

The doubt about the system's ability to date is grounded in well-known shortcomings, not the least among them being the system's spotty record in tests.

The system has had some successes but several failures in tests conducted under tightly controlled circumstances far different from the hostile real-world situations in which many factors are unknown.

The presence of failures shouldn't be a surprise to anyone, however, because the system is still a work in progress. Success comes from failure, sometimes many of them.

But the system's shortcomings to date aren't enough to pull the plug, as many have claimed on and off over the years. And with North Korea again behaving like the unstable country that it is, and with one of its long-range missiles poised to fly off to who knows where, a "limited" missile defense system is better than none at all.

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