Juneau's role in '08 missile test small

Powerful radar to be located in city temporarily

Posted: Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Juneau's role in next year's missile intercept test by the Missile Defense Agency will be small, Alaska Region Director Col. Thom Besch said to a crowd of about 40 residents of the Lena Point area Tuesday evening.

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In fact, the powerful radar the agency is planning to locate at the Ted Stevens Marine Research Institute will be here only temporarily, and only will be turned on briefly while it is here.

The radar itself is a standard X-band radar, just extra powerful.

"This isn't something out of the ordinary," Besch said.

Juneau's role in the test will be to track a missile fired from the Kodiak Launch Complex as an interceptor missile is fired from Vandenburg Air Force Base in California in an attempt to bring it down over the Pacific.

The equipment is expected to be shipped to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's institute in Juneau in late October or early November, with the test to be conducted sometime between January and March. After the test, the tracking equipment from Juneau will be disassembled and shipped to a front line location, most likely in Japan or Europe, he said.

Even while the equipment is here, it is likely to be on only briefly and in the early morning hours. That might be as little as 15 minutes, he said.

It will have to be turned on for testing as well, he said.

"They'll power up and track satellites just to make sure they're calibrated," Besch said.

In response to questioning from audience members, Besch said it was unlikely that Juneau would ever be used for anything other than testing as Juneau is not well located between potential attacker North Korea and the U.S. mainland.

"Southeast does not provide us with an operational capability," he said.

The danger from the powerful radar itself is limited by time of day, short duration and location, Besch said. He provided few specifics as to just what those dangers were, however.

Located on a bluff overlooking the ocean, the nearest land in front of the site is Shelter Island. That island is both below where the radar will be aimed and outside the radar's 1,800 meter danger zone, he said.

Besch and other Missile Defense Agency representatives declined to specify exactly how powerful the radar was, but some audience members speculated 25,000 watts from information he did provide.

"It's safe for the operator to walk right behind it," he said.

The agency also is working with aviation authorities to determine the best ways to keep planes out of the beam. Besch said aviators will be notified when it will be used.

State Rep. Andrea Doll, D-Juneau, has been monitoring the issue on behalf of constituents in the area, and said she's been reassured by what she's heard so far.

"I think I support it," she said.

Nearby resident Bill Leighty said he didn't expect many objections to the actual mechanics of the operation, but said there might be other concerns.

"The nuisance to Juneau is gong to be very modest," he said. "The biggest question is the false sense of security."

Tuesday's session at the new institute was billed as an informational session for nearby residents. A formal town hall style meeting is scheduled for Sept. 13 to hear from the broader community, Besch said.

• Contact Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.

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