Missile Facility Thrives On Garden Island

Team Infidel

Forum Spin Doctor
Honolulu Advertiser
April 9, 2007
By Jan TenBruggencate, Advertiser Kaua'i Bureau
MANA, Kaua'i — The Pacific Missile Range Facility — which just a few years ago was a target for base closing — has emerged as a powerful force in national defense and a significant boost to Kaua'i's economy.
A third of the nation's missile defense systems are being tested at the facility, and testing of additional weapons systems is possible.
The successful launch of a missile interceptor Thursday night from the range highlights the technological and financial impact of national missile defense on Kaua'i. In that test, a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense missile successfully crashed into a target rocket that had been fired from a sea-based launch platform.
Two of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency's six programs — THAAD and the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense — conduct launches several times each year from Kaua'i. Both are immense federal spending programs. The 2008 to 2013 budget for THAAD is about $3 billion, and for Aegis is $3.9 billion, said the missile defense agency's spokesman, Rick Lehner.
A third program, the Patriot Advanced Capability-3 Medium Extended Air Defense System, could conduct tests in the coming years at the missile range, Lehner said.
"Everything that I hear tells me that (the range) is expanding. It is just growing in importance in terms of testing," said Beth Tokioka, director of the county's Office of Economic Development.
The range also brings tens of millions of dollars into the island economy each year.
In the test last week, several hundred people flew to Kaua'i for up to two weeks, including representatives with the U.S. Missile Defense Agency, contractor Lockheed Martin, subcontractors, military observers, missile operations soldiers from the U.S. Army's 6th Air Defense Artillery Brigade in Fort Bliss, Texas, and others.
Any single Kaua'i launch can bring upward of 100 people, and often several hundred, said Pamela Rogers, an agency spokeswoman based in Huntsville, Ala., who was here during the past week for the THAAD launch.
Hotels, rental cars, meals and other spending can top $3 million for just one of these launches, said Pacific Missile Range spokesman Tom Clements. Six or seven such launches annually — which is the current schedule — bring in close to $20 million, and that number may rise with new testing requirements.
"It has a significant impact on the visitor economy," said Sue Kanoho, executive director of the Kaua'i Visitors Bureau.
The expanding missile range function has helped the island's economy in other ways, creating job opportunities in areas that might not otherwise be present, said the Office of Economic Development's Tokioka.
"Our kids can go to engineering school or take technical training and come to jobs here, but there is also a wide range of other skill sets that are needed. It's a facility that requires a lot of support services around it," she said. "The workforce is pretty diverse and there's big value in that."
A couple of factors are responsible for the West Kaua'i rocket range's growing role in missile testing.
One is that there's lots of open ocean to the north, west and south, with few active shipping lanes and little air traffic, and with comparatively few extraneous electronic signals like those given off by cell phones and garage door openers.
"We provide what we call a relatively encroachment-free environment," Clements said.
For example, the THAAD program was forced to leave New Mexico's White Sands Missile Range simply because its 100-mile by 40-mile size isn't big enough for the range of the missiles being tested.
"Our testing has completely shifted from White Sands to here," Rogers said.
A second factor is a full range of tracking equipment, Lehner said.
A rocket test fired from within the range or that is crossing the range can be tracked by multiple radar systems, and by sophisticated optical gear, including the telescope at the Air Force's Maui Optical Station. This can be augmented by satellite tracking, and monitoring from ships and planes.
Groups such as the missile defense agency are customers of the missile range, paying for the services they require. What they get in return: "We are able to tell the customers how well their systems work," Clements said.
Lehner said the room to test, and the equipment to gauge how well the test went, is crucial.
"We pay the Navy and (the range) to have the infrastructure to do our testing. The primary purpose of testing is to measure performance. The range has all the equipment to get the information while the missile is in the air," he said. "Test costs are always substantial. If you're doing an intercept flight (one rocket intercepting another rocket), you get one try."
The facility also has an important training function.
"Aegis and THAAD represent two of our largest test programs; however, we also have significant responsibility to provide the best training opportunities for our fleet. One of the unique things about (the range) is that we can test and train simultaneously. From tracking submarines underwater during training exercises to tracking fast-moving objects in space in support of missile defense tests, we provide the facilities and all the data the customer needs to determine how well they performed," said Capt. Aaron Cudnohufsky, who assumed command of the range on Tuesday.