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Billion Dollar Battle Over Central Pacific US Missile Range: The Range In Action

4 March 2002

Three major contractors are in a bidding battle for a multi-billion dollar contract to manage a central Pacific missile testing range that is key to US President George W. Bush's missile defense plans.

The contract at the US army-operated, contractor-run Kwajalein missile range expires at the end of this year and a decision on a new contractor could be announced as early as June, Kwajalein commander Colonel Curtis Wrenn told AFP.

Raytheon Systems Engineering, a branch of the Massachusetts-based Raytheon Corporation is the current contractor, but an incumbent contractor at Kwajalein has never won a rebid at this distant, boomerang-shaped coral atoll.

Currently 2,600 Americans and Marshall Islanders operate Kwajalein -- a four billion dollar missile testing range that features America's most sophisticated combination of missile tracking equipment, interceptor launch areas and command and control facilities.

Kwajalein has been the primary testing range for both theater and national missile defense weapons that have underpinned the US drive to perfect its controversial missile defense shield.

Raytheon is being challenged for the Kwajalein base logistics and range technical operations contracts by major Defense Department contractors Northrup Grumman, and a joint venture of corporate giants Bechtel and Lockheed corporations.

The bid deadline closed late last week with the companies filing proposals to handle Kwajalein operations for what could be a 15-year period beginning in 2003, according to army officials.

The United States has changed its contract bidding system.

Previously, a contractor held its post for a period of approximately seven years, with the contract rebid at the end of that time.

Under the new regime aimed at cutting costs associated with costly rebids and new management of military facilities, a company could have its contract continued for up to 15 years based on satisfactory performance.

The Kwajalein contract is estimated in value at approximately 200 million dollars annually.

Many of Kwajalein's American workers have held their jobs through three or more contractors.

A handful of workers have been at the base since the 1960s, when the missile testing first began.

Kezin Lotte, a Raytheon technician, has lived on Kwajalein for 19 years and has no intention of leaving, regardless of who wins the bid.

"I love this island life too much to leave it," he told the army publication Stars and Stripes, referring to the atoll's nine hole golf course, and its numerous sports facilities.

Giff Johnson
Published by AFP, Kwajalein © 2002 Agence France-Presse.

Marshall Islands


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