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Secret, But in Plain View

Missile launcher raises concerns.

The Naval Surface Warfare Center installation on Clara Barton Parkway in Potomac has a big secret sitting in plain view.

In the last month, drivers on the parkway have been able to see a dark green missile launcher situated on the grass in front of the model basin buildings.

‘I can give you the Navy’s blessed words or the Department of Defense’s blessed words on this, what they call a NORAD missile launcher,” said Jim Scott, a spokesman for the center formerly known as the David Taylor Model Basin.

“The new systems, including the one at the Naval Surface Warfare Center, Carderock Division, in the Washington DC area are in support of homeland defense as a part of Operation Noble Eagle. This operation is a multi-layered air defense system under operational command of NORAD. It consists of aircraft, radar, and ground-based air defense systems and communications equipment. Due to potential terrorist threats, details of the mission may not be discussed to prevent inadvertent disclosure of operational information,” Scott said, reading from a Department of Defense statement he said he had been directed to provide in response to inquires.

Scott was sympathetic community members’ desire for more information about the weapon.

“We understand the community’s concerns because the employees here initially had the same concerns,” he said. “We informed them as to why this system is here. I think folks understand a lot of information is on a need-to-know basis. ... They know from an operational standpoint, the safety issues have been thoroughly reviewed.”

Scott noted that NavSea no longer owns the David Taylor property — it now belongs to the Naval District Washington — and that the maintenance and operation of the device falls to NORAD.

“Since it’s not our operation nor our property we’re a little bit limited,” he said.

Ed Ziegler, public affairs officer for Naval District Washington, offered little additional information. He said the missile launcher is operated by the Air Force, which keeps staff on-site for maintenance and operation.

Asked if the recent appearance of the device had anything to do with the upcoming presidential inauguration, Ziegler said that the two events were not specifically connected, but that the launcher is part of the ongoing Noble Eagle operation. Asked how long it would remain, he said, “It’s there until it’s gone.”

Rather than being worried, residents should be thankful for the device, Ziegler said: “I would just say that, you know obviously the Department of Defense is deeply concerned with threats to the region and were preparing to counter those threats. If I were in the community I would not see that as a threat to me, I would see that as something that’s actually a benefit, that would counter an inbound threat.”

Asked what the weapon was called, he said, “I’m not going to get into that.”