Alaska Based Ballistic Missile Interceptors being tested at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California - Photo by US ArmyThe United States Army has a strong connection to Alaska and recent events have highlighted Fort Greely, Alaska as one of the country’s national security assets. While Fort Greely is home to a number of units like the Cold Regions Test Center, Northern Warfare Training Center and Army Corps of Engineers; the Fort is best known for its Ground-Based Midcourse Missile Defense System operated by the 49th Missile Defense Battalion. The 49th Missile Defense Battalion’s mission is unique, it is composed of full-time members enlisted in the Alaska Army National Guard and they are the ones responsible for crewing all operations of Alaska Based Ballistic Missile Interceptors.

Alaska Based Ballistic Missile Interceptors

Alaska’s strategic global geographic position makes it closest to incoming ballistic missiles launched from the Middle and Far East. Trajectories of ballistic missiles are broken into four flight phases; they are boost, ascent, midcourse, and terminal. A complete missile defense system would account for each of these phases. Assets installed at Fort Greely are focused on the midcourse flight phase of hostile missiles. The midcourse phase of a missiles flight can last up to twenty minutes, making the period one of the best opportunities to mount a response with an interceptor missile.

Currently there are twenty-six ground based anti-ballistic missile interceptors installed at Ft. Greely. The missiles use a multi-stage solid fuel booster that lofts a package designed to destroy incoming missiles with its kinetic energy.  On March 15, 2013, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced the addition of fourteen more ground-based interceptors at Fort Greely, Alaska. Continued testing and deployment of long range ballistic missiles in North Korea and Iran prompted the one billion dollar expenditure.

Members of the 49th Missile Defense Battalion patrol the Ground-based Interceptor Missile Defense Complex at Fort Greely, Alaska - Photo by Master Sgt. Michael Smith.In a press conference, Hagel said, “First, we will strengthen homeland missile defense by deploying 14 additional Ground-Based Interceptors (GBIs) at Ft. Greely, Alaska.  That will increase the number of deployed Ground Based Interceptors from 30 to 44, including the four GBIs at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California…The collective result of these four decisions will be to further improve our ability to counter future missile threats from Iran and North Korea, while maximizing increasingly scarce taxpayer resources.  The American people expect us to take every necessary step to protect their security at home and U.S. strategic interests abroad, but they expect us to do so in the most efficient and effective manner possible.  By taking the steps I’ve outlined today, we will strengthen our homeland defense, maintain our commitments to our allies and partners, and make clear to the world that the United States stands firm against aggression.”

Fort Greely and Delta Junction

Fort Greely’s history reaches back to early stages of the Second World War. It started as a refueling depot for pilots in the Lend Lease Program flying aircraft to Russia. Alaska’s climate makes the facility a natural location for cold weather research and the region’s varied terrain makes it an excellent location to conduct cold weather training. The Fort was deactivated in 1994 during a rash of base closures that occurred nationally, a blow to the economy of nearby Delta Junction, Alaska and the state as a whole. The facility was partially reopened to support the national Ballistic Mission Defense System and now employs some 1,100 employees that contribute to the local economy.

Delta Junction has a long history involving transportation and its importance to national defense. The community was a historic stop on the Richardson Highway running from tidewater at Valdez to the interior town of Fairbanks and was at the heart of the Alaska-Canada Highway’s construction during World War II. Its location was significant in the building of the Trans-Alaska Oil Pipeline and the community actively supports Fort Greely’s current operations.

While no one would like to see the ballistic missile interceptors used against an outside threat, it is good to know Alaska is able to contribute to protecting our national security.

Copyright – 2013 by Alan Sorum.

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