Pacific Missile Range Facility – Kauai

The Garden Island of Kauai has recently come to play an important role in the nation’s missile defense. Pacific Missile Range Facility Barking Sands (PMRF), located on the island’s west side, is the world’s largest instrumented multi-environmental range and training facility.

The military has conducted a variety of missile defense tests at PMRF since the 2000s. Most recently, in August 2017, the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) and the Navy conducted a successful test that intercepted a medium-range ballistic missile target off the shores of Kauai.

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Missile defense contracts have infused over $50 million into the state’s economy every year since 2008, with some years’ total contract spending reaching or even exceeding sums of $100 million. Most of these contracts are for work in Kauai County, home to PMRF. That number is only expected to rise, as the Trump administration has indicated that the defense industry’s budget will increase under his tenure.

History

PMRF, originally named Mana Airport, was established by the Army in 1940 and was transferred to the Navy in 1957. The base expanded during World War II and the Cold War years, growing into a missile defense testing facility and even establishing a meteorological mission and installing an antenna mast for NASA. 

In 2002, PMRF added the Aegis Ashore system to its facility.  Part of the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) System, Aegis Ashore is a land-based missile defense system designed to defeat short- to intermediate-range ballistic missile threats. The MDA, which is the research, development and acquisition agency within the Department of Defense that develops and tests the nation’s missile defense programs, has conducted testing of the Aegis Ashore system at PMRF since 2002.  PMRF’s system, which was established only for testing, will help ensure the future success of Aegis’ operational systems in Romania and Poland.   

Pivot to the Pacific

At the end of 2011, President Obama gave remarks to the Australian Parliament where he discussed a renewed focus on the political, economic, and military importance of U.S. relationships and alliances in the Asia-Pacific region. Hawaii’s strategic location connecting the Asia-Pacific region and its role as home to the U.S. Pacific-Command — whose area of responsibility covers nearly half of the earth’s surface — made the state a key player in the Asia-Pacific pivot.   

In 2012, total spending on missile defense contracts in Hawaii peaked at $200 million. And while the number of new contracts over the past several years has decreased compared to 2008, when there were more than 90 contracts executed, the value of each new contract has significantly increased to an average of $1 to $2 million. Many of the top companies and organizations with these contracts are locally-based, including Manu Kai LLC, the University of Hawaii and Oceanit Laboratories. Manu Kai, which provides base and range operations support for PMRF, was also just awarded a nearly $81 million contract for continued work at PMRF. 

Company Spotlight - Manu Kai

Manu Kai LLC is one of the top Hawaii-based defense contractors in the State. A joint venture with Keaki Technologies LLC and Exelis Inc., Manu Kai is a Native Hawaiian and minority owned small business that was founded in 2006.

The company provides base and operation support for the Pacific Missile Range Facility (PMRF) on Kauai. In September 2017, Manu Kai was awarded another $81 million contract modification for its work at PMRF that is set to be completed by September 2018.

Since its founding in 2006, Manu Kai’s work with the Department of Defense has totaled nearly $550 million.

The secluded island of Niihau, with a population of less than 200, located 17 miles off the coast of Kauai, is also benefitting from contracts with the defense industry. Niihau Ranch provides facility support to PMRF with contracts valued at $14 million.

The Obama Administration’s pivot to the Asia-Pacific provided the state with an influx of defense contracts that have benefitted all four counties. The range of services covered by these contracts has supported many industries, including IT and cybersecurity, construction, and research and development. These industries are creating jobs that go beyond the mainstay of tourism, providing island residents with greater opportunities and a more diverse economy. PMRF is currently the third-largest employer on Kauai with nearly 1,000 personnel, including defense personnel and civilian contractors.

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Opportunity and Vigilance

The defense industry is helping Hawaii to grow jobs in the STEM field, particularly in engineering, IT and other specialized fields. Not only does this provide the state with a more diverse workforce; it also provides Hawaii students the opportunity to go into a new, exciting field that can offer high paying jobs and the opportunity to remain home in the islands. 

Recent threats from North Korea have highlighted the importance of Hawaii and PMRF to U.S. national defense. From February through September 2017, North Korea fired 22 missiles over the course of 15 tests.  The rhetoric from North Korea’s unpredictable leader shows no indication that he will be slowing or ceasing his testing.

While concern is growing about North Korea’s ability to reach the United States, the MDA is continually researching, developing and testing various missile defense mechanisms to ensure the safety of Hawaii and the U.S. mainland. There have also been discussions about whether the Aegis Ashore system at PMRF should become operational to add layer of protection for Hawaii. Kauai will continue to be a key player in ensuring our nation’s safety, which will mean continued investment in the island for research and development, job opportunities and a diversified economy. 

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