Iqaluit, Alert possible NMD sites, watchdog says

U.S. missile defense system won’t work without sites in northeastern Canada, expert says


Northern Canada is the next logical place for the installation of U.S. National Missile Defense sites, according to defense watchdog Dale Grant, editor of the Defense Policy Review.

“Try Canada,” Grant wrote in his Toronto-based bulletin. “The line Alert-Goose Bay offers the best placement option.”

The U.S. is ready to sink billions of dollars into a system that would theoretically protect it from attacks by so-called “rogue” countries such as North Korea or Iran by knocking out their missiles before they could reach U.S. targets.

The NMD system would rely on missiles launched from ships or land, as well as lasers fired from modified aircraft.

But to make the proposed system work, the U.S. must have radar and missile sites circling the Arctic.

Greenland has been less than keen about letting the U.S. upgrade its Thule air base into a NMD site.

However earlier this year, Lt. General George MacDonald, the vice-chief of Canada’s defense staff, said he wouldn’t rule out Ellesmere Island for an NMD site.

Canada and the U.S. already have close military ties. Canada participates with the U.S. in NORAD, the North American Aerospace Defence Command, and recently, the U.S. asked Canada to join in a “Northern Command” unit to maintain security over North America.

More military cooperation could make it even tougher for Canada to back away from providing sites for the NMD.

Grant maintains two or three missile radar sites on the “eastern front” would be necessary to cover the intercept line for missiles headed toward the U.S. east coast. Based on missile trajectory maps, he says these NMD sites would be located at Alert, in North Baffin, Iqaluit, or Goose Bay, Labrador.

“If they deploy the system, if they don’t put the radars and missiles somewhere along that line Alert-Goose Bay, it ain’t going to work,” Grant said. “The trick is you have to fire at an angle.”

An upgraded Thule air base couldn’t do the job of defending U.S. airspace without assistance from additional sites in Canada.

“Even if the Greenlanders said, ‘Sure put missiles here,’ I can’t see from a technical point how you could do it otherwise,” Grant said.

Grant would place the “battle management headquarters” in Goose Bay as a way of sealing the southern border of the NMD system.

But a 2000 Arctic Capability Study produced by the Canadian Forces Area Headquarters calls for an “Arctic Warfare and Survival School” somewhere in the northern area.

Such a school could conceivably be established in Nanisivik at the site of the soon-to-be-closed mine, and it could double as an NMD “battle management headquarters.”

Fort Greeley, a former U.S. Army facility 200 kilometres southeast of Fairbanks, Alaska, is already slated for five missile silos, which will be part of the Pacific test bed that the U.S. Missile Defense Agency wants to have up and running by September 2004.

Construction will begin on June 14, the day the U.S. is freed from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty that bans major missile defense systems.

The U.S. is also considering arming these missiles with nuclear warheads. Nuclear interceptors would require less accuracy than conventional missiles, and could destroy incoming missiles with more success.

The radioactivity from these missiles colliding wouldn’t reach the Earth’s surface, but the massive electromagnetic pulse resulting from any nuclear explosion, even 120 kilometres in space, would destroy satellites and electronic circuits on the ground.

“You get the same effect you sometimes get from the Aurora Borealis, when sometimes radio communications are interrupted. It doesn’t harm you physically, but unless you’re protected, every computer chip in your community would just bite the dust. It would not only knock out communications, it would knock out everything.”

Only telecommunications operated by the military and banks are generally protected against these kinds of destructive pulses.

“Nuclear weapons have more effects than just blast and heat, and some of them are very subtle,” Grant said.

He said residents of Canada’s North should be concerned about the NMD, even though he has serious doubts about whether the technology proposed for the system will work well.

“Just call me when the surveyors come,” Grant joked.

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