From the air, the view of Kwajalein Atoll is spectacular. The dozens of coral islands that make up the atoll surrounded by the beautiful blue-green waters of the Pacific Ocean. Eleven of the islands make up the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site. “So Reagan test site has several customers. Some customers are commercial space customers. Also we have Missile Defense Agency, US Air Force, and other Army customers,” said Col. Rod Stuckey, the Test Site Director.
One thing all the customers for Reagan Test Site deal with is the distance from Redstone Arsenal. The atoll is some 6,800-miles from the base. “Some tests take up to a year and a half of planing. if each customer had to fly out to Kwaj, do coordination and fly back, it would be a tremendous cost to the customer,” said the Colonel.
Keeping people from having to make the long flight is one reason the test site is actually operated by the Space and Missile Defense Command at Redstone Arsenal. The tests can be big, expensive and time-consuming. Tests of the ability to defend against intercontinental ballistic missiles also require a lot of distance. “We’re 2,200 miles southwest of Hawaii. For a classic ICBM that has a very long-range, we give them a platform to test those things,” said Col. Stuckey.
The scope of the tests is hard to imagine, but then so is living on Kwaj so far from the mainland. “I describe Kwaj to those individuals who’ve never been there as having Mayberry in the middle of the ocean,” said Col. Stuckey. He adds the hardest thing isn’t getting people to live on the islands, but rather to come home after they’ve lived there.
One thing is certain about Kwaj and the people who work there. The Reagan test site has a big job, and it’s important for lots of reasons. “What it means is it gives us a pillar to do direct coordination with our customers in order to save money for all Department of Defense assets,” said the Colonel. Part of the equation that makes Kwaj important and convenient is the fact that it is run from Redstone, and that saves money. “It’s a very big deal in these tight fiscal times, a very big deal,” said Reagan Test Site Director, Col. Rod Stuckey.
For the record, the U.S. has had military operations on Kwajalein since 1944 when America capture the Atoll from the Japanese.