Connecting Alaska to the World And the World to Alaska
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Military Officials Can’t Identify Owner, Purpose of ‘Dummy’ Mobile-missile Launcher

Patrick Levy
Fairbanks businessman Patrick Levy took this photo of what he believes is a mock-up used to help train pilots to spot mobile missile launchers.

A Fairbanks man photographed what appears to be military hardware this week that resembles a mobile missile launcher. But Army and Air Force officials say they it’s not their equipment, and they don’t know what it’s being used for.

Patrick Levy was driving to work Monday on his usual route up Phillips Field Road to get to his downtown business, when he spotted something unusual as he was passing by the Alaska Railroad yard.


“I looked over to my left, and I saw a mobile rocket-launch platform,” he said in an interview Monday afternoon. “There were two of them, actually, painted green on a railroad car there.”

Levy says he wasn’t sure what he saw, but it seemed unlikely to him that the military would be shipping missile launchers like they were just another piece of equipment.

“I noticed they were unguarded and so they definitely could not be real,” he said. He snapped a couple of photos of the unusual rail cargo as he was passing by, and when he got to work, he took a closer look at the images.

“It looks more like a dummy,” he said, “some sort of a prop for putting out on the Eielson Air Force Base range, to get our pilots that are flying out there to think that they’re seeing a mobile launch missile.”

Mock-ups like the one Levy saw in the Alaska Railroad yard are intended to help pilots and other military personnel on the battlefield to locate and identify real mobile missile launchers, like this Iranian Shahab 3.

Levy is no stranger to that sort of training. He says he learned about using these kinds of mock-up props while he worked as a contractor technician on ranges around Eielson, after he got out of the military. He also worked for 20 years as a radar technician at Clear Air Force Station, before retiring two years ago. And, full disclosure, he’s married to KUAC’s programming and production director. And he’s really curious about those rigs on the railcars.

“You never see anything like mobile missile launchers in the railroad yard,” he said. “That really grabbed my attention as I was driving by.”

An Eielson spokesperson agreed that’s what the equipment looks like, but she said it doesn’t belong to the Air Force. A spokesperson for the base’s higher headquarters at the Hawaii-based Pacific Air Forces affirmed that. Spokespersons at Fort Wainwright and Fort Greely also said it’s not theirs. But a Wainwright official confirmed it is a mock missile, and that was affirmed by Lieutenant Colonel Catina Barnes, the public affairs officer for U.S. Army Alaska, Fort Wainwright’s higher headquarters.

“So, what was seen on a train is a mock-up of a missile – or a dummy missile, if you will – to be used in future Red Flag exercises,” she said in an interview Tuesday.

Barnes says the military often uses trains to transport equipment and materiel. But that’s about all she could say about the matter.

Alaska Railroad officials know who owns the equipment, but they won’t talk about it for proprietary reasons. Railroad spokesperson Tim Sullivan confirmed the company transported the equipment. And he could disclose where it was headed.

“We generally don’t talk about what our customers are moving,” he said in an interview Tuesday. “What I can tell you is what you saw out there in our yard moved from Fairbanks down to Anchorage sometime in the last day or two.”

Spokespersons for the U.S. Missile Defense Agency and the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Geophysical Institute, which operates the rocket-launch facility at Poker Flat, both said the mock-up missile launcher isn't theirs.

So, the ownership and purpose of the mock missile launcher remains a mystery. But this much is known – whatever it is, it’s headed your way, Anchorage.

Editor's note: This story has been revised to include responses from the Missile Defense Agency and UAF Geophysical Institute.

Tim Ellis has been working as a KUAC reporter/producer since 2010. He has more than 30 years experience in broadcast, print and online journalism.