Missile Defense Agency reps grilled by residents at public meeting

Radar equipment that will be used in test to arrive in Juneau in '08

Posted: Friday, September 14, 2007

Missile Defense Agency representatives say they need Juneau to play a role in an important missile intercept test, but a few Juneau residents said Thursday they didn't want that to happen.

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Col. Thom Besch, the agency's Alaska region director, said the anti-missile system is crucial to keeping the country safe from possible North Korean or Iranian ballistic missile attacks. He spoke Thursday at a public informational meeting at the National Guard Armory.

Trailers of radar equipment will arrive in Juneau this fall, and in early 2008 they'll help track a missile fired from the state's Kodiak Launch Complex into the Pacific Ocean. Using data from Juneau and elsewhere, an anti-missile missile will be fired from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California in an attempt to intercept it.

The system was rushed into place by Congress and the president several years ago but is constantly being improved to make it more robust.

"The technology has proven itself," he said.

Besch was derided as a "spokesman for the military-industrial complex" by an angry Albert Petrarca, however.

And Juneau activist Amy Paige disputed the government's claims of success in previous tests.

"I believe the agency is not being upfront with the public about the efficacy of this," she said.

She said that while Besch claimed 18 of 19 test successes, there really have been about five.

Besch said test success could be defined differently, and even unsuccessful shoot-downs may provide useful information, as it did for Thomas Edison.

"He learned from every failure, and we have the light bulb because of it," he said.

The agency's Phil Means denied that the test missile would be able to cheat on the test with an electronic assist.

"There is no homing beacon on the rocket," he said.

Success or failure of the test wasn't Petrarca's concern, however. He called missile defense "another useless weapons system that is going to bankrupt the country."

Petrarca became known in Juneau earlier this year when he interrupted a speech by Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, to the Legislature. He was escorted from the venue, but not arrested.

At an earlier Lena Point meeting, the same group of representatives addressed mostly neighborhood concerns. On Thursday, they brought some additional answers to questions asked then, including queries about light and noise. Besch said they've determined that both of those will be negligible. The security lighting they'll need for the nighttime test likely will be less than the existing parking lot lights, and the noise of generators won't be a problem because they'll be able to connect to Alaska Electric Light & Power and won't need to generate their own power.

The powerful radar will create some noise, however, said the agency's Howard Finkel.

"We're well below the Juneau standard of 55 decibels at night," he said.

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

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