ANCHORAGE - A sea-based missile-detection radar will soon head to Adak in the Aleutian chain to become a component of the Bush administration's multibillion-dollar missile defense program.
The $815 million X-band radar platform is the only one of its kind, officials said. It was assembled in Texas by defense contractors Boeing and Raytheon. The self-propelled station sits 21 stories high and is as wide as a football field, rendering it too massive to squeeze through the Panama Canal, according to Boeing publicity materials.
The converted oil platform will take the long route, rounding South America and heading to Hawaii before reaching Adak by late December or early next year.
When it reaches Adak, 1,200 miles southwest of Anchorage, the radar station will float just off the town, a former naval station that regional Native firm, Aleut Corp., is redeveloping into a residential community and fishing port.
The X-band radar will be linked to missile interceptors buried in underground silos at Fort Greely, near Delta Junction, and at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
Dave Jensen, chief executive of Anchorage-based Aleut Corp., which owns a part of Adak, flew to Corpus Christi, Texas, last week for the official christening of the radar platform.
Aleut Corp. successfully bid to have the X-band stationed at Adak, beating out Vandenberg as well as companies in Everett, Wash., and Honolulu, said Curtis Smith, a spokesman for the company.
The radar and the business it will spawn are a big step for Adak's redevelopment and economy, Jensen said. Up to 100 people will work inside the huge structure.
The Aleut Corp. and its subsidiaries expect to play a support role for the radar station, he said.
Aleut Technologies, a subsidiary, won a contract with Boeing to operate a tugboat, the Dove, that will move fuel and supplies between Adak and the X-band station year-round. The Dove and its 17 crew members will be stationed at one of Adak's docks, Jensen said.
Aleut Corp., representing more than 3,000 Native shareholders with ties to the Aleutian Islands, acquired Adak from the federal government in March 2004 under a land trade. The company makes money from fuel sales, seafood processing, real estate and government contracting. It expects to post a record profit of nearly $11 million in 2005 once auditors sign off on the final numbers, Jensen said.
Chris Taylor, a spokesman for the Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency, said the X-band radar has undergone sea trials and may participate in missile flight tests after the platform leaves Corpus Christi, sometime in the next few weeks. The agency isn't releasing the exact date for security reasons, he said.
X-band refers to the radio frequency range the radar platform uses. The high-powered radar is designed to detect incoming enemy ballistic missiles. It's mission is to relay tracking information to ground-based interceptor missiles at Fort Greely and Vandenberg Air Force Base, Taylor said.
In case an enemy warhead rockets toward the United States, the interceptors are designed to shoot them down.
While Adak will be the X-band's home port, the radar station is capable of moving anywhere in the Pacific Ocean, according to Boeing Co.
The station is an integral component of President Bush's controversial missile defense program, which aims to protect the United States from limited ballistic missile attacks launched by terrorists or rogue states.
Critics have described the program as a $53 billion boondoggle that will do little to increase the nation's security. Some say it's wracked with too many technological challenges. Others say terrorists are more likely to use suicide bombers than ballistic missiles.
Recent flight tests have not been successful. In December and February, mock enemy rockets were fired from the Kodiak Launch Complex on Kodiak Island. Problems occurred both times with interceptors in the Pacific, and the tests failed.