U.S. Navy photo
A Vandal, which simulates a supersonic cruise missile, is launched from the Pacific Missile Range Facility at Nohili.
Kauai at odds over missile tests
Officials like the economic contributions,but protesters have a bevy of concerns
By Gregg K. Kakesako
BARKING SANDS, Kauai — The sand-swept dunes and vast ocean waters of the Pacific Missile Range Facility are in a crossfire as a new round of hearings begins next week on the Navy’s proposal to test its newest defense against ballistic missiles beginning in 1999.
The battle lines once more are drawn:
- The Navy maintains that the 42,000-square-mile ocean and aerial test facility northwest of Kauai is best suited for this type of operation. Officials say the new tests will add only a half-dozen launchings to a facility that averages 80 a year.
- Environmentalists say the proposal “is just continuation of the typical greed of the military, industrial and scientific complex” to invent new enemies to fight. They worry not only about the environment of the Garden Island, but also the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands breeding grounds for the green sea turtle and monk seals.
- State and county officials view the new phase as not only bringing more civilian jobs to the base, which is the island’s third largest government employer, but also as a key to its survival.
- Hawaiian activists consider the Nohili dunes — which lie within the area — to be sacred burial grounds. In the past, protests and arrests occurred as groups demanded access to the dunes. The Navy maintains access is forbidden only during a missile launch.
Navy says system is needed
Several years ago when the Army’s Strategic Target System, or STARS, missile program, was planned, Kauai protesters unsuccessfully tried to block it through lawsuits, charging that it was illegal and wasteful and improperly used Hawaiian lands. The first launch took place in August 1993. But only four of the planned 40 payloads materialized.
Under the current proposal, the Navy is eyeing Barking Sands to test its primary weapon system against short-range ballistic missiles. The Theater Ballistic Missile Defense, located on Aegis cruisers and destroyers, would provide umbrella protection for a flotilla of amphibious landing ships and accompanying Marine Corps beachhead forces.
The system is needed, Navy planners say, because of the proliferation of short-range missiles capable of nuclear, chemical and biological destruction by more than 30 countries.
The Navy wants to launch and track target drones fired from the air, land and sea, following them them until they are intercepted over the ocean.
Cayetano backs project
Gov. Ben Cayetano supports the plans to enhance Barking Sands testing capabilities.
“The people on Kauai will benefit economically because of the federal money and jobs resulting from this project,” Cayetano said.
Kauai County officials see the range as the largest and most stable economic element on the island. Last year Barking Sands contributed $45 million in wages and salaries, $8.2 million in construction spending, $41 million in contracts, $12 million in purchases and $3.1 million in utility payments. Visits by military and civilian contractors added $4 million.
The base has a labor force of 900, only 113 of whom wear Navy blues.
Bob Mullins, Mayor Maryanne Kusaka’s administrative assistant, said: “The real value also is what goes on outside the fence and outside the gate and the base does so much for people of the island, especially on the west side.”
Mullins said that in 1992 after Hurricane Iniki devastated Kauai, Barking Sands personnel “did a lot to get the west side of the island back up and on its feet.”
Hawaiians say site sacred
But Raymond Chuan, spokesman for the Kauai Friends of the Environment, said, “It is absolutely ridiculous to think that we are facing such a bigger threat with the demise of the Soviet empire to require the massive new developments of missile systems.
“Like the ultimate chameleon, the military changes color to suit every change in the geopolitical scene to justify its insatiable appetite to continue feeding billions into the military-industrial-scientific complex, while cutting the red meat out of the nation’s defense strength by continually reducing troop strength,” Chuan said.
He added that “the bait as always is jobs.”
“But are a few dozen extra jobs — mainly held by imported technicians — enough to sacrifice the still pristine state of Kauai and the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands?”
The Rev. Kaleo Paterson, spokesman for the Hawaii Ecumenical Coalition, pointed out that the STARS missile launch site was “built at the foot of the dunes,” which Hawaiians consider to be a sacred site.
“Hawaiians believe that the northern- and westernmost part of any island was sacred. It was where spirits of a dead person leaped off into the other world. Many Hawaiians buried their dead there.”
Threat of base closure
Mullins said Barking Sands has been lucky to survive the last four base closure commissions, which since 1988 have shut down 97 facilities. It beats its mainland competition because of its expansive ocean and air space that isn’t constricted by airline and shipping traffic.
Mullins, who was commander of the Pacific Missile Range Facility from 1991-94, said: “We always made it known that the future of the base was to market itself for test and evaluation programs” like the one being proposed now.
Because Congress now seems to support the development and testing of a defensive missile designed to knock down missiles with less than a 1,000-mile range, Mullins said, “then you need a place where you can test those weapons systems safely.”
“The perfect test environment is what they have west of Kauai at Barking Sands range and beyond.”
Mullins predicted that if Barking Sands doesn’t get the missile testing program, there will be major cutbacks that could result in closing the range and the base.
“Like any business,” Mullins said, “to stay in business you have to grow and change with the times. That is what Barking Sands is trying to do by bringing in the missile defense business.”
JIM BOWLIN:The commanding officer of the Pacific Missile Range Facility says the Navy would like to build a 6,000-foot runway on the southern end of Niihau
Niihau is an important part of Navy’s plans
By Gregg K. Kakesako
BARKING SANDS, Kauai — The privately owned island of Niihau would play a crucial role in the proposed test of the Navy’s new missile defense system.
The sparsely inhabited 72-square-mile island, located about 19.5 miles southwest of Kauai, is owned by the Robinson family and houses an unmanned Navy radar site. Visitors are rarely allowed on the island.
Niihau is being eyed as one of three sites that would launch drone target missiles to be intercepted by Aegis cruisers or destroyers sitting offshore.
The other two launch sites would be the Pacific Missile Range Facility and Kure Atoll, located 1,350 miles northwest of Honolulu in the Northwestern Hawaiian chain. Future launch sites could be built on Johnston Atoll, Tern Island in the French Frigate Shoals, Wake Island and Midway Island.
More than one launch site is needed to test the capability of a Navy warship to shoot down missiles coming from all directions at different altitudes and at different times.
On the southern end of Niihau, the Navy also would like to build a 6,000-foot runway that would be used to bring materials needed for a missile launch, said Capt. Jim Bowlin, Pacific Missile Range Facility commanding officer.
The Navy also is proposing to:
Build two new ordnance storage magazines at Kamokala Caves located three miles east of Barking Sands.
Refurbish an existing radar site on Makaha Ridge overlooking the test range.
Construct an additional radar site on Kokee.
On Kure Atoll, the Navy wants to build a launch site on 321-acre Green Island, one of three in the group, located 56 miles southeast of Midway Island.
Averiet Soto, operations officer for the range, said future missile tests may not involve Johnston Atoll, Tern Island, Midway Island and Wake Island if the Navy can come up with suitable substitute mobile air and sea launching systems.
Soto does not believe that the Kauai missile intercepts will be “visible to the naked eye” since he estimates that the ships firing the interceptor missiles would be at least 100 miles off the island.
Bowlin said no financial arrangements have been worked out with the owner of Niihau, Bruce Robinson, although Bowlin believes it would be “a mutually beneficial relationship.”
Eight potential launch sites — five on the northern portion of Niihau and three on the southern end — are being contemplated, Soto said.
The Navy would like to have one or two sites, each sitting on a concrete pad measuring 150 feet by 150 feet.
Bowlin said Robinson has told the Navy any facility on Niihau must have some “economic benefit and cannot disrupt the lifestyle” of the more than 200 native Hawaiians living there, the majority of whom speak only Hawaiian.
There are no utility systems on the island. Each household has water catchment and septic systems and portable generators.
The Navy has been paying Robinson $1 a year since 1984 to lease the land where the radar unit is now located and $275,000 for logistic and other maintenance services.
Four hearings on Kauai, Oahu
The Navy will conduct four informational sessions on Pacific Missile Range Facility for testing of the Navy’s Theater Ballistic Missile Defense program.
The Navy wants feedback on issues that should be addressed in the environmental impact statement on the project.
Three hearings will be held on Kauai:
Tuesday, at Waimea Neighborhood Center beginning at 4 p.m.
Thursday at Kilauea Neighborhood Center at 4 p.m.
June 21 at 1 p.m. in the Wilcox Elementary School cafeteria.
The last hearing will be held at 4 p.m. June 23 at the U.S. Army Reserve Center in Fort Shafter Flats.
Navy took over in 1964
World’s largest instrumented and multidimensional testing and training range
- 1921: Acquired by Kekaha Sugar Co. from the Knudsen family. Private planes used the grassy field as a landing strip.
- 1932: Australian Kingsford Smith made a historic flight from Barking Sands to Australia in a Ford Trimotor.
- 1940: First acquired by the Army, 549 acres including the grassy landing field through executive order. The installation became known as Mana Airport and the Army paved the runway.
- 1954: Named changed to Bonham Air Force Base
- 1962: Pacific Missile Range Facility officially commissioned
- 1964: Barking Sands and 1,885 acres transferred to Navy
Barking Sands: Hawaiian legend
BARKING SANDS, Kauai — The legend of Barking Sands deals with an old Hawaiian fisherman who lived in a hut near the beach with his nine dogs. When he went fishing, the man would stake his dogs in the sand, three to a stake.
After one exhausting fishing expedition involving a bad storm, the fisherman forgot to untie the dogs after returning to the beach.
When he awoke the next morning, the dogs were gone. In their place were three small mounds of sand. As he stepped on a mound, he heard a low bark.
Believing that the dogs had been buried in the sand because of the storm, the fisherman began to dig.
The digging was futile. Each shovelful just meant more sand. The fisherman finally gave up and every day after that when he crossed the beach, he could hear the low barking.
To this day the sands of Mana have been known as Barking Sands.