The Navy program isBy Anthony Sommer
expected to bring millions of
dollars to the island
LIHUE -- Testing of new missiles designed to knock down hostile rockets will take place at the U.S. Navy's Pacific Missile Range Facility on the west tip of Kauai, U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, said last night.
Following completion of an environmental impact study last month, the Navy still has several weeks to make a final decision whether to use the Pacific Missile Range to test its Theater Ballistic Missile Defense system.
But in an interview before a speech at a charity fund-raiser last night, Inouye said, "I think it's a go."
The test program is expected to bring millions of dollars of added revenue to Kauai as scientists and technicians working on the program will stay in local hotels during what promises to be several years of testing.
And it will mean major upgrades for facilities at the Navy test center, already considered one of the most sophisticated in the world and the only research site capable of testing missiles, aircraft, surface warships and submarines.
"I don't think there will be any tests this year, but next year is certainly possible," Inouye said.
Inouye also revealed that the plan to use the island of Niihau to launch target missiles is not dead. He added that the tests can be conducted without Niihau, however.
The Robinson family, which has owned Niihau and kept it closed to outsiders for 130 years, offered the island to the Navy for the installation of missile launchers, tracking and communications equipment, and an airfield.
But they balked when the state Historical Preservation Division insisted on a complete archaeological survey of the island. Family spokesman Keith Robinson said repeatedly that the family fears radical native Hawaiians will claim a right to move onto Niihau if any ancient cultural artifacts are discovered.
"There are some discussions going on," Inouye said. "It would be preferable if Niihau could be used because permanent facilities could be located there, but if it can't be done, there are other ways."
The Navy is building two floating launch platforms and experimenting with dropping target missiles from aircraft in case Niihau can't be used.
The plan is to place to Navy Aegis-missile cruisers in the large open ocean range off Kauai and fire target missiles simulating medium-range rockets used by hostile countries at them. If all goes well, missiles fired from the cruisers will hit the targets before they can pose a threat to the ships.
The Theater Ballistic Missile Defense system is the top-priority weapons development in the military. It is designed to protect ships, ground forces and civilians in a combat zone from enemy missile attacks.
After six successive failures by the Army to knock down incoming rockets with its version of a Theater Ballistic Missile Defense system, the Navy's attempts are expected to receive close scrutiny.
The program became controversial last year when a blue-ribbon Pentagon panel studying the effort cautioned against cutting corners on accepted testing procedures. Its report warned the haste at which the program is moving ahead may be "a rush toward failure."