Pentagon recognizing Alaska's strategic value

World leaders are justifiably on edge about North Korea and its leader Kim Jong-Un. From executing senior members of his government and military to rocket launches and nuclear tests, the irrational and paranoid Kim Jong-Un has combined his nuclear goals and ballistic-missile ambitions into a volatile mixture of regional and global instability. In response, Congress has stepped up to lead by recently passing bipartisan legislation to broaden sanctions and punish North Korea for its nuclear program.

Iran, the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism, is also very focused on developing intercontinental ballistic missiles, as shown by its recent missile tests that were in clear violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions. Unfortunately, unlike North Korea, where we are in the process of tightening sanctions, the United States is in the process of lifting sanctions on Iran. This is a strategic mistake that undermines America’s national security.

For all of these reasons, a robust missile defense for the United States is critical for the security of our nation. And because of Alaska’s strategic location, our state is the cornerstone of America’s missile defense. This is clearly reflected in comments by Secretary of Defense Ash Carter when he said the reason that Alaska is home to our “principle defense batteries” is because of Alaska’s global strategic location.

That’s why I received the bipartisan support of my Senate colleagues in successful efforts to include two critical missile defense priorities in last year’s budget bill — sustaining and improving the existing Ground-based Midcourse Defense system at Fort Greely and funding the Long Range Discriminating Radar (LRDR) at Clear Air Force Station, both in Alaska’s Interior. This effort helped support an already strong request from the Obama Administration for missile defense. And it helped secure that funding in National Defense Authorization and Defense Appropriation bills that totaled $1.4 billion for these critical programs.

I have disagreed with the Obama administration on a number of policy issues. But although more needs to be done to counter external threats, I agree with the Department of Defense’s recent efforts on prioritizing strategic missile defense. 

This is clearly critically important for the nation’s defense, and it’s also important for Alaska, particularly in the Interior. In the next few years, the Department of Defense will be making investments on building and constructing projects in Alaska related to missile defense. The president’s fiscal year 2017 budget request includes hundreds of millions of dollars in military construction over the next several years to build the Long Range Discrimination Radar at Alaska’s Clear Air Force Station. This is in addition to the millions of dollars in missile defense upgrades that have already occurred and are still ongoing at Fort Greely.

At a time when Alaska is facing shrinking budgets and job losses, the positive ripple effects for our economy from this investment will be significant and will create substantial job opportunities for Alaskan contractors, their employees and union members.

In addition to this focus on missile defense in Alaska, our state is also clearly becoming the hub of air combat power for the U.S. in the Asia Pacific, if not the country. Our F-22s and the coming F-35s, the E-3C, our C-17s, C-130s, and KC-135s are all aircraft that support a multitude of national security objectives around the world on a daily basis. No other state or U.S. territory holds such a national strategically centered location or more capable expeditionary force structure.

Let’s also not forget that while this attention on Alaska is certainly largely due to our location, it also reflects the regard in which our highly disciplined and well-trained members of the military and our welcoming communities that support them are held. As a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, I see this respect on a regular basis from our senior military leaders.

As an example of this, the Director of the Missile Defense Agency, Vice Admiral James Syring, will be visiting one of these welcoming communities — Fairbanks, as well as other parts of Alaska — next week. Without doubt, he will be impressed and proud of our military in Alaska.

Indeed, we should all be proud that our state is home to the force-structure that protects our nation from rouge state missile threats. Patriotic Americans — at Fort Greely, Clear Air Force Station and on the island of Shemya — are the first and most critical line of defense against missiles fired at the United States. These Americans — many of whom are Alaska National Guard members — safeguard millions of American lives, from Anchorage and Los Angeles to New York and Washington, D.C. 

I will continue to fight to ensure that they have everything they need to counter irrational leaders and safeguard our state and our country.

By:  Sen. Dan Sullivan
Source: Fairbanks Daily News-Miner