The resumption of work on a key U.S. military satellite ground station in Italy is good news for the program, whose timetable for full-operational capability was threatened by the six-month stoppage.
Construction of the U.S. Navy’s Mobile User Objective System () ground station in Niscemi, on the island of Sicily, was halted earlier this year after concerns over the health effects of electromagnetic radiation in the surrounding area sparked a wave of popular protests that led Sicily’s governor to revoke the building permit. That order was later reversed by an Italian court based in part on studies indicating that the facility posed no unusual hazards.
The Niscemi station is one of four built for MUOS, which is designed to provide smartphone-like communications services to mobile U.S. forces operating almost anywhere on the globe. The others — two in the United States and one in Australia — have been completed, making the Niscemi facility a MUOS pacing item.
During the construction halt, Navy officials said 14 months would be needed to complete the site. It now appears that, barring additional delays, the site will be ready in time to support MUOS full-operational capability in 2015. To date, two of five planned MUOS satellites have been launched, with the third scheduled to launch in 2014.
The health concerns surrounding Niscemi always seemed a bit far-fetched, particularly given that people these days rarely give a second thought to using their mobile telephones throughout the day. Nonetheless, military facilities, particularly U.S. bases on foreign soil, are magnets for suspicion that local elected officials may or may not be inclined to allay.
If there’s a lesson here, it is that the U.S. military and its allies should, to the extent practical, strive for transparency and openness in addressing local concerns about overseas bases. Consider it part of the price of international cooperation, whose benefits nonetheless far outweigh the cost.