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KWAJALEIN, Marshall Islands (June 22, 2001 -- Marshall Islands Journal)---Kwajalein is the busiest it’s been in 10 years, and every indication is the stepped-up testing activity will continue with the Bush administration’s push on missile defense.

Well aware of impending Compact negotiations and demands from Kwajalein leaders for increased rent, high ranking Army officials aren’t giving "ammunition" to RMI negotiators by calling Kwajalein the "gem" in America’s missile testing crown, as in the past.

But comments by General Joseph M. Cosumano, Jr., who visited last week, and Ambassador Mike Senko, reinforce the unique and key role that the missile testing range is playing in current U.S. strategic and tactical defense developments.

Cosumano, who heads the Army’s Space and Missile Defense Command, said that Kwajalein, because of its location, afforded a "unique testing opportunity for us." But, he added, the range – with its radar at Roi Namur – also plays a unique role in America’s space surveillance network.

Senko said Kwajalein is worth billions, the only place where a "bullet hits a bullet" – reference to the many interceptor launches that have been conducted from Kwajalein as part of its missile defense mission.

The three-star general said the U.S. is continuing to improve the instrumentation at Kwajalein, which now has a state-of-the-art control complex at Kwajalein.

Despite these comments, however, Cosumano said "make no mistake about it, Kwajalein is in competition with other missile testing facilities." He pointed to the Pacific missile range, White Sands, New Mexico and the emerging test range in Kodiak, Alaska.

"We don’t want to give the impression that Kwajalein is the only place where we can do the testing," said Kwajalein Commander Col. Curtis L. Wrenn, Jr. It is possible to conduct similar testing operations using "mobile platforms" in other locations he said.

The stepped up testing program at Kwajalein in recent years has led to a jump in the Marshallese workforce at the range. There are currently 1,518 Marshallese employees, Senko said.

"This is an indication of the excellent cooperation and quality of the workforce," Cosumano said. "I expect it to remain at about 1,500 for an extended period of time."

The Marshall Islands Journal, Box 14, Majuro, Marshall Islands 96960 E-mail:  Subscriptions (weekly): 1 year US $87.00; international $213.00 (air mail).

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