Wednesday, July 16, 2003
Oahu may get giant radar
The military assesses the potential impact of a missile defense dome off Kalaeloa
Mooring a 25-story-tall radar dome and platform a few miles off Kalaeloa in West Oahu would impose only a minor visual impact “comparable to ships passing along the horizon,” according to a military report.
That assessment of the proposed Sea-Based X-Band Radar being developed as part of the nation’s ballistic missile intercept system was included in an environmental impact statement released by the U.S. Missile Defense Agency last week.
The mooring site off Oahu is one of six locations around the Pacific being considered as a home port for the huge radar device that would be towed to various sites during the testing program. The radar is part of a project from the Missile Defense Agency to target and intercept ballistic missiles in flight as a ship- and ground-based defensive shield.
If it is home-ported in Hawaii, the Sea-Based Test X-Band (SBX) radar platform, about the length of a Navy frigate, would spend up to nine months moored either in the Pearl Harbor area or three miles off the old Barbers Point Naval Air Station at Kalaeloa, and would be moved to one of three operational areas in the northern Pacific. It would have a crew of 50 and about another dozen shore-based personnel.
The radar platform and recent tests at the Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kauai are part of plans outlined in December by the Bush administration to have a rudimentary missile defense system ready for use by 2005.
Under the plan, 20 Standard Missile-3 interceptors would be placed aboard three Navy ships with improved versions of the Aegis system which uses radar to detect and track hostile missiles and cue on-board weapons to intercept them.
This sea-based system was outlawed under the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, but President Bush gained the flexibility of testing it when the United States withdrew from the treaty last summer.
The plan also calls for the development of ground-based missile interceptors.
The testing program comes when North Korea, which has a ballistic missile program, claims that it has produced enough plutonium for about a half-dozen nuclear bombs.
North Korea’s missile development program includes the Taepodong-2, a two-stage rocket that some analysts believe could reach Alaska or Hawaii.
Besides Hawaii, other areas being considered for the SBX are at Valdez or Adak in Alaska; Kwajalein Atoll, Marshall Islands; Port Hueneme, Calif.; and the naval station at Everett, Wash.
Civilian authorities in Snohomish County, Wash., have raised concerns about potential adverse effects of electromagnetic radiation on health and safety and the radar platform’s imposing size.
Officials in Valdez, Alaska, expressed support for getting the radar.
The EIS reviewed potential environmental effects of a wide range of facilities the agency might build or upgrade as part of a new missile defense testing area recommended by Pentagon planners.
The report does not recommend a particular home port and that decision will be made some time after Aug. 11 by Gen. Ronald Kadish, head of the MDA, after the 30-day comment period on the final draft of the EIS ends, said Maj. Cathy Reardon, spokeswoman for MDA in Arlington, Va.
The $900 million radar uses a finely focused beam to track an incoming ballistic missile in space during the 20 minutes it spends outside the Earth’s atmosphere.
The radar could not be activated off Oahu before an electromagnetic radiation and electromagnetic interference survey and analysis is completed, according to the EIS.
During a March public hearing on a preliminary draft of the EIS, Leandra Wai, a Waianae Coast resident, said she was concerned about radar emissions from the SBX platform on top of her ongoing concerns about emissions from military facilities at Kaena Point and Lualualei.
“We’re going to be sitting in radio emissions from radar for the whole length of the coastline,” she said. “Now that feels pretty serious.”
David Hasley, from the Army Space and Missile Defense Command’s environmental office, discounted that concern. “They will make sure there are no hazards to people, period,” he told the March meeting.
“Implementation of Sea-Based Test X-Band Radar operational safety procedures, including establishment of controlled areas, and limitations in the areas subject to illumination by the radar units, would preclude any potential safety hazard to either the public or work force,” the EIS said.
“These limitations would be similar to the existing Ground-Based Radar Prototype on Kwajalein, resulting in no impacts to health and safety,” it said.
The SBX radar is not expected to radiate below 10 degrees above the horizon at the mooring site and the relatively small radar beam would normally be in motion which reduces the potential impact on birds, marine mammals or sea turtles in the area, the EIS said.
“Overall, no adverse impacts to marine mammals or sea turtles are anticipated,” it said.