Sun, Aug 21, 2011 - Page 4 News List

Marshall Islanders fear US Army tests

AWOL:After two US missile tests went awry, sparking safety concerns, politicians have urged the government to raise the issue with the US at a meeting this month

AFP, MAJURO

Marshall Islanders living in the flight path of US missile tests expressed fears for their safety yesterday following two aborted missions.

Concerns were raised after a missile re-entry vehicle was blown up northeast of Kwajalein Atoll last month and a hypersonic glider disappeared on its way to a target near Kwajalein nearly two weeks ago.

“It ditched, but where?” asked Kwajalein Senator Tony deBrum of the Falcon hypersonic glider. “We are concerned that with all these ditched and aborted flights our constituencies down-range face increasingly significant risk of equipment failure or of tests simply gone awry. What hazard do these shots pose to people down range?”

Michael Kabua, another -senator from Kwajalein, where the US Army’s Reagan Test Site is based, said the US Army had not given him any direct information about the aborted Minuteman missile test on July 27 nor the Falcon failure on Aug. 11.

In a statement released after the July 27 incident, the US Air Force said that when problems developed with the re-entry vehicle it was destroyed “northeast of Roi-Namur,” an island at the northern tip of Kwajalein Atoll.

Kabua said there are four inhabited islands northeast of Kwajalein.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency reported that the Falcon stopped communicating with mission control 20 minutes into the planned 30 minute flight to Kwajalein Atoll. The hypersonic glider, an unmanned vehicle designed to deliver a weapons payload to any point on the globe, was reportedly traveling at about 21,000kph, nearly 20 times the speed of sound. It was the second of two planned flights, both of which stopped communicating and crashed somewhere in the Pacific Ocean.

DeBrum said he wanted the Marshall Islands government to raise the issue later this month at the Joint Committee Meeting, an annual defense consultation between the US and the Marshall Islands.

Since the mid-1960s, the Pentagon has used Kwajalein’s boomerang-shaped necklace of coral islands as a target for dummy warheads launched on intercontinental ballistic missiles from California. About a dozen islands in the atoll are dotted with radar and other missile tracking equipment and missile intercept launch sites.

In May, the US struck a deal with the Marshall Islands to continue using the testing range at Kwajalein Atoll through to 2066.

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