Strategic Weapons: May 17, 2000


: The first step in the construction of the new missile defense system is the most difficult: building a huge X-band missile tracking radar on remote Shemya Island in the Aleutians. Shemya, already used for other military radar, navigation, and communications stations, is the westernmost point in the US, farther west than even Hawaii. The island is remote and storm swept; building anything on Shemya is incredibly difficult. Barges from Seattle must travel 3,000 miles to bring construction materials. The winds are 40mph on calm days, and can reach 80mph. The remoteness makes it incredibly difficult to find volunteers, and personnel assigned to the station report tremendous stress due to the isolation. If President Clinton orders the system built on schedule in June, construction will start almost immediately to take advantage of the short summer. If the decision is delayed into October or later, construction on Shemya cannot begin until next April, delaying the missile defense system by an entire year. Even so, an April start (and a bit of good luck) will mean that Shemya will be ready for live-fire testing by 2004 and ready to go operational in 2005.--Stephen V Cole 


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