Alaska's Fort Greely at center of missile defense battle

ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- In early spring, the first defense budget of the Obama administration set off alarms in Alaska and elsewhere when it showed cuts of some $1.4 billion in missile defense programs.

Alaska's Fort Greely near Delta Junction is a key element in the nation's missile defense system, and the budget cuts threatened to halt new development there. The reductions fueled fears -- so far unfounded -- that Fort Greely itself might be endangered again, as it was during the base-closing frenzy of the 1990s.

Alaska's senators serve on key military committees and they rushed to oppose the cuts. But were they just engaging in home-state politics, preserving the only significant economic engine in the Delta area? Or is the ground-based missile defense system based in Fort Greely an effective, strategic force capable of counteracting the growing threats of "rogue nations" like North Korea and Iran?

Sens. Mark Begich, on the Armed Services Committee, and Lisa Murkowski, on Appropriations, say they are thinking about Alaska and the nation, and that Fort Greely makes sense for both.

"I want to protect Alaska's interest but I also want to protect United States interests in doing the right thing in how we develop our missile defense system," Begich said in a recent interview.

Less clear is whether the 16 missiles in place at Fort Greely and 10 more on the way could shoot down a long-range ballistic weapon -- or even whether North Korea or Iran can launch such a threat in the foreseeable future.

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