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Kwajalein Atoll (/ˈkwɑːəlɨn/; Marshallese: Kuwajleen ),[1] is part of the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI). The southernmost and largest island in the atoll is named Kwajalein Island, which its majority English-speaking residents (about 1000 mostly U.S. military personnel) often call by the shortened name, Kwaj /ˈkwɑː/. 13,500 Marshall Islanders live on the rest of the atoll, mostly on Ebeye Island. The total land area of the atoll amounts to just over 16 square miles (41 km2).

The atoll lies in the Ralik Chain, 2,100 nautical miles (3900 km) southwest of Honolulu, Hawaii, at 8°43′N 167°44′E / 8.717°N 167.733°E / 8.717; 167.733.


Kwajalein is one of the world's largest coral atolls as measured by area of enclosed water. Comprising 97 islands and islets, it has a land area of 16.4 km² (6.33 mi²), and surrounds one of the largest lagoons in the world, with an area of 2174 km² (839 mi²).[2][3] The average height above sea level for all the islands is about 1.8 metres (5 ft 11 in).

Kwajalein Island

Kwajalein Island is the southernmost, and the largest, of the islands in the Kwajalein atoll. The northernmost, and second largest, island is Roi-Namur. The island is about 1.2 square miles (3.1 km2).[4] It is 2.5 miles (4.0 km) long and averages about 800 yards (730 m) wide.[5]

The population of Kwajalein Island is currently around 1,000 individuals, mostly Americans and a small number of Marshall Islanders and other nationals, all of whom have express permission from the U.S. Army to live there. Approximately 13,500 Marshallese citizens live on the atoll, most on Ebeye Island.[6]

The water temperature averages 81 °F (27 °C) degrees and underwater visibility is typically 100 feet (30 m) on the ocean side of the atoll.

Passes near Kwajalein Island

  • SAR Pass (Search And Rescue Pass) is closest to Kwajalein on the West reef. This pass is manmade and was created in the mid-1950s, it is very narrow and shallow compared to the other natural passes in the lagoon and is only used by small boats.
  • South Pass is also on the West reef, north of SAR Pass. It is very wide.
  • Gea Pass is a deep water pass between Gea and Ninni islands.
  • Bigej Pass is the first pass on the East reef North of Kwajalein & Ebeye.

Other islands in the Kwajalein atoll

Other islands in the atoll:[7]

Bigej is covered with tropical palm trees and jungle. People from Kwajalein island in the south of the atoll have visited it for picnics and camping. It is a site of cultural significance to the indigenous people of Kwajalein atoll, as are most of the small islands throughout the atoll. Some Kwajalein atoll landowners have proposed developing Bigej to look similar to the landscaped beauty of Kwajalein islet, for the exclusive use of Kwajalein atoll landowners and their families.

Little Bustard (Orpāp, [1]) and Big Bustard (Epjā-dik, ,[1] 'little Ebeye') are the first and second islets respectively north of Kwajalein island on the East reef, and are the only islets between Kwajalein and Ebeye. During low tide and with protective boots, it is possible to wade across the reef between Kwajalein and Little Bustard.

Ebeye is not part of the Reagan Test Site; it is a Marshallese island-city with shops, restaurants and an active commercial port, It has the largest population in the atoll, with approximately 13,000 residents living on 80 acres (320,000 m²) of land. Inhabitants are mostly Marshall Islanders but include a small population of migrants and volunteers from other island groups and nations. Ebeye is one of the most densely populated places in the world. Many of its residents live in poverty.[8] A coral reef (visible and able to be traveled at low tide) links them to Kwajalein and the rest of the outside world.[9] It is the administrative center of the Republic of the Marshall Islands at Kwajalein Atoll, and the Kwajalein Atoll Local Government (KALGOV). It is completely separate from the United States military operations in the atoll.

Ebadon (Epatōn, [1]) is located at the westernmost tip of the atoll. It was the second-largest island in the atoll before the formation of Roi-Namur. Like Ebeye, it falls fully under the jurisdiction of the Republic of the Marshall Islands and is not part of the Reagan Test Site. The village of Ebadon was much more largely populated before the war and it was where some of the irooj (chiefs) of Kwajalein Atoll grew up. Like many other key islets in the atoll, it has much cultural and spiritual significance in Marshallese cosmology.

Enmat (Enm̧aat, [1]) is mo̧ or taboo, birthplace of the irooj (chiefly families) and off-limits to anyone without the blessing of the Iroijlaplap (paramount chief). The remains of a small Marshallese village and burial sites are still intact, but this island is located in the Mid-Atoll Corridor, and no one can reside there or on surrounding islands due to missile tests.

Ennylabegan (Āneeļļap-kaņ, [1]), or "Carlos" Islet, is also site of a small Marshall Islander community that has decreased in size in recent decades but was once a bigger village. Until 2012, it was actively utilized by the Reagan Test Site for tracking activities during missions, and has been one of the only non-restricted Marshallese-populated islands used by the United States Army. As such, power and clean drinking water were provided to this island free-of-charge like on the other military-leased islands. This is likely to be phased out if the island ceases to be used for future mission support.

Enubuj (Āne-buoj, [1]), or "Carlson" Islet which was its 1944 World War II U.S. operation codename, is situated next to Kwajalein Islet to the northwest. It was from this island that U.S. forces launched their amphibious invasion of Kwajalein island. Today, it is the site of a small Marshallese village with a church and small cemetery. The sunken vessel Prinz Eugen, used during the Bikini Atoll atomic weapons tests, is located here along the islet's northern lagoon side.

Gugeegue or Gugegwe (/ˈɡiɡ/ ; Marshallese: Kōn̄e-jekāān-eņ, [1]) is an islet north of Ebeye, and is the northernmost point of the concrete causeway connecting the islets between them. Gugeegue is just south of the Bigej Pass which separates it from Bigej islet.

Legan (Am̧bo, [1]) is uninhabited but does have a few buildings on the southern part of the island. Most of the island is thick jungle like most islands in the Marshall Islands. Unlike most islands though, Legan has a very small lake in the middle.

Meck is a launch site for anti-ballistic missiles and is probably the most restricted island of all the U.S.-leased sites.

Nell has a unique convergence of protected channels and small islands. The Nell area is unique and a popular destination for locals and Americans sailing through the area with proper permissions from the Republic of the Marshall Islands. (All non-leased islands are strictly off-limits to American base residents and personnel without applying for official permission.)

Omelek is uninhabited and leased by the U.S. military. Until 2012, it was the site for SpaceX launch facility.

Roi-Namur has several radar installations and a small residential community of unaccompanied U.S. personnel who deal with missions support and radar tracking. Japanese bunkers and buildings from World War II are still in good condition and preserved. Roi and Namur were originally separate islets that were joined by a causeway built predominately by Korean conscripted laborers working under the Japanese military. There is a significant indigenous Marshall Islander workforce that commutes to Roi-Namur from the nearby island of Enniburr, much like workers commute from Ebeye to Kwajalein. These workers are badged and have limited access to the island like their counterparts on Kwajalein, although access is granted for Islanders who need to use the air terminal to fly down to Kwajalein. Roi-Namur used to be 4 separate islands: Roi, Namur, Enedrikdrik (Ane-dikdik), and Kottepina. The pass between the islands was filled in using sand that was dredged from the lagoon by both Korean laborers working for the Japanese and Americans between 1940 and 1945, and after the war the resulting conjoined islands were renamed Roi-Namur.[10]

Wrecks in the lagoon

As a result of the Battle of Kwajalein, the lagoon contains wrecks of mostly Japanese ships and a few planes. A number of wrecks have been identified:

  • Concrete barge - sunk on purpose as a breakwater near Ennylabegan (Carlos)[11]
  • Prinz Eugen - sunk by accident near Enubuj (Carlson) after a post-war atomic bomb test[11]
  • Akibasan Maru - Japanese 4,607 ton freighter below "P-buoy" with the actual buoy marker no longer there. Sunk January 30, 1944.[11]
  • Ikuta Maru - 2,968 ton Japanese freighter at "P-North" for being just north of the former P-buoy.[11] This is listed as being one of the transports for Allied prisoners of war during World War II.
  • Unidentified wreck at G-buoy, 115 feet (35 m) in length.[11]
  • Tateyama Maru, K-5 side.[12]
  • Asakaze Maru, K-5 upright.[12]
  • Tyoko (or Choko) Maru, a 3,535 ton freighter, at "barracuda junction". Sunk December 5, 1943.[11]
  • Barge, Between South Carlson and Sar Pass.[11]
  • Wooden auxiliary sub chaser rubble near South Pass. The wood has deteriorated away.[11]
  • Shonan Maru #6, grounded at Gebh Island to avoid sinking but blown up.[11]
  • Shell (or Ebwaj) Island wreck. 110 feet (34 m) trawler or whaler.[11]
  • South Shell wreck, similar to Shell Island wreck.[11]
  • Daisan Maru, former whaler, near Bigej Pass.[11]
  • Palawan, an engine freighter captured by the Japanese from the Philippines. Sunk by the US destroyer Harrison January 31, 1944 near Bigej.[11]
  • Shoei Maru, a freighter sunk upside down at O-buoy.[13]
  • A Japanese plane just west of Ebeye.[14]
  • A PBM about 1 nautical miles west of Ebeye.[14]
  • Four B-25s, a TBF Avenger, an F4U, 4 Douglas SBD Dauntlesses, and a C-46 in the western reef inside Roi-Namur.[14]



Kwajalein (Kuwajleen) Atoll was an important cultural site to the Marshallese people of the Ralik chain. In Marshallese cosmology, Kwajalein island was the site of an abundant flowering utilomar tree from which great blessings flowed, and people from all over would come to gather the "fruits" of this tree. This, explain many elders, is a Marshallese metaphor that describes the past century of colonialism and serves to explain why Kwajalein is still so precious to foreign interests. This story was also the origin of the name Kuwajleen, which apparently derives from Ri-ruk-jan-leen, "the people who harvest the flowers".[15]

League of Nations mandate

The islands of the atoll, particularly the main island, served as a rural copra-trading outpost administered by Japanese civilians under the Japanese Mandated "South Seas" Islands of Micronesia (the Nanyō Guntō) for twenty-two years. The earliest-known Japanese record of Kwajalein and the Marshall Islands appears in the writings of Suzuki Keikun, who was dispatched to the Marshall Islands in 1885 to investigate a Japanese shipwreck. This visit was followed by two decades of German colonial rule in the Marshalls. Japan, joining the Triple Entente peacefully captured control of the islands from Germany in 1914 and established administrative control in 1922 under a League of Nations Mandate.[16]

Early Japanese influence

There was some Japanese settlement in Kwajalein Atoll (known in Japanese as クェゼリン環礁, Kwezerin-kanshō), comprising mostly traders and their families who worked at local branches of shops headquartered at nearby Jaluit Atoll where Japanese civilians numbered in the several hundreds to nearly 1,000 at the height of the Japanese administration. There were also local administrative staff at Kwajalein, and with the establishment of Kwajalein's public school in 1935, schoolteachers were also sent to the island from Japan. Most Marshall Islanders who recall those times describe a peaceful time of cooperation and development between Japanese and Marshallese, although Marshallese (and other Islanders or Okinawans) were still not considered on the same social tier as Japanese.[17][18]

Japanese militarism

In the late 1930s, Japan began to centralize military power in Micronesia in line with its expansionism into the South and throughout Oceania. This was a radical break with the League of Nations Mandate under which the islands had been peacefully administered. Korean forced laborers (see Korea under Japanese rule) were sent throughout the Pacific beginning in the early 1940s, under strict orders from local Japanese-controlled city offices throughout Korea. Over 10,000 were sent to the Micronesia (Nanyo Gunto) area alone—mostly from the southernmost provinces of Korea, and thousands were sent to the Marshall Islands. In some atolls, such as Wotje, those forced laborers were joined by Japanese prisoners from Hokkaido (mostly political prisoners who had spoken against the Japanese government). In Kwajalein, Koreans were placed in battalions and other specialized groups, sometimes together with Marshallese, to build fortifications throughout the atoll. Whenever there were American air raids, the mainly Korean construction teams had to work night and day to fill up the holes that American bombs had made. Archaeological evidence and testimonies from Japanese and Marshallese sources indicate that this project would likely not have begun until the 1940s and was not even complete at the time of the American invasion in 1944. A second wave of Japanese naval and ground forces was dispatched to Kwajalein in early 1943 from the Manchurian front, most of whom were between the ages of 18 and 21 and had no experience in the tropics. These young soldiers were poorly trained, were mostly in the army, and the supply ships that were meant to provide them with food rations were sunk by Americans en route. Thus they had a very rough existence on Kwajalein and often succumbed to illness like dengue fever and dysentery—as did many of the laborers. As the tempo of military ideology increased, soldiers at Kwajalein became harsher and more violent toward Marshall Islanders, whom they often suspected of spying for the Americans.[19]

After the war, a US Naval War Crimes court tried several Japanese naval officers here for war crimes committed elsewhere. At least one was condemned to death.[20]

Forced resettlement

When the first runway was built on Kwajalein island by Korean laborers, the Japanese public school was demolished and moved, with all civil administration, to Namu Atoll, and Islanders were forcibly moved to live on some of the smaller islets in the atoll. The trauma of this experience—together with the influx of these young, underprepared troops—surprised the local population, and many Islanders make clear distinctions in their recollections of civilian and military Japanese for this reason. This is the first known instance of forced relocation in Kwajalein Atoll, and similar events happened throughout the Marshall Islands beginning with Japanese militarism.[21]

During and after World War II

On February 1, 1942, the USS Enterprise (CV-6) launched a series of raids on the Roi Namur airfield and merchant shipping in Carlos Pass, where they sank several ships.[22]

American amphibious assault

Main article: Battle of Kwajalein

On January 31, 1944, the 7th Infantry Division, spearheaded by the 111th Infantry Regiment performed an amphibious assault on Kwajalein. On February 1, 1944, Kwajalein was the target of the most concentrated bombardment of the Pacific War. Thirty-six thousand shells from naval ships and ground artillery on a nearby islet struck Kwajalein.[23] American B-24 Liberator bombers aerially bombarded the island, adding to the destruction.

Of the 8,782 Japanese personnel[24] deployed to the atoll (including Korean forced laborers), 7,870 "Japanese" were killed.[25] U.S. military documents do not discriminate the Japanese from Korean dead; however, the Korean Government's Truth Commission for Forced Labor Under Japanese Imperialism reports an official figure from the Japanese government of 310 Koreans killed in the American invasion of Kwajalein. Whether this figure represents Kwajalein islet or the whole atoll is unclear. Since no distinction was made between dead Japanese soldiers and Korean forced laborers in mass graves on Kwajalein, both are enshrined as war hero guardian spirits for the Japanese nation in Yasukuni Shrine. This enshrinement is solely due to the commingling of Korean and Japanese corpses in this one case, and has not occurred with the remains of other Korean forced laborers elsewhere.[26]

Additionally, while many of the native Marshallese successfully fled the island in their canoes just prior to the battle,[27] an estimated 200 were killed on the atoll during the fighting. Kwajalein was one of the few locations in the Pacific war where indigenous islanders were recorded to have been killed while actually fighting for the Japanese. Many Marshallese dead were found among those killed in bunkers. However, the flat island offered no other protection against the heavy bombardment. Taking refuge in bunkers resulted in many Marshallese deaths when their shelters were destroyed by hand grenades.[28] Some Marshallese were also reportedly induced to fight by Japanese propaganda which stated (in a similar manner to the later Battle of Okinawa) that the Americans would indiscriminately rape and massacre the civilian population if they successfully took the atoll.[29]

On February 6, 1944, Kwajalein was claimed by the United States and was designated, with the rest of the Marshall Islands, as a United Nations Trust Territory under the United States.[30]

Evolution into a U.S. military installation

In the years following, Kwajalein Atoll was converted into a staging area for further campaigns in the advance on the Japanese homeland in the Pacific War. After the war ended, the United States used it as a main command center and preparation base in 1946 for Operation Crossroads, the first of several series of nuclear tests (comprising a total of 67 blasts) at the Marshall island atolls of Bikini and Enewetak. Significant portions of the native population were forced to relocate as a result of American weapons testing and military activity in the islands between 1945 and 1965.[21] The German heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen was towed to Kwajalein from Bikini Atoll after the Operation Crossroads nuclear tests. It developed a leak, was towed out and sank in the lagoon.

By the 1950s, the Marshallese population working at the base at Kwajalein had grown, and the conditions in the makeshift labor camp on Kwajalein islet were such that the U.S. Navy administering the atoll at the time decided to relocate these Islanders to nearby Ebeye, an islet only three islands to the north of Kwajalein and accessible by a short boat ride or walk over the reef at low tide. Nuclear refugees from the atolls irradiated by the American tests were also moved to Ebeye, and in 1964, when the United States initiated its Anti-ballistic missile testing program with the Nike-Zeus program in Kwajalein Atoll, authorities moved also the remaining Marshall Islanders who lived scattered on their land throughout the atoll to the small shantytown of Ebeye which had been erected with plywood housing by American contractors. This relocation from the Mid-Atoll Corridor would eventually precipitate into the numerous landowner resistance movements by the people of Kwajalein Atoll, who deeply resented the continuing American occupation without their consent and without proper compensation.

With the end of the Cold War and a decreased threat of nuclear attack, many defense programs were canceled in the early 1990s. However, overcrowding on Ebeye remains a major problem, and continuing military operations and various launch or re-entry tests perpetuate the dislocation of Marshall Islanders from their small islands throughout Kwajalein Atoll. The United States Army Kwajalein Atoll test site does not provide logistical support to Ebeye or Ennibur islets.

21st century

In 2008, a new government was voted into power in the Republic of the Marshall Islands, with Litokwa Tomeing as President and Tony deBrum as foreign minister. This new government was sympathetic to the needs of the Ebeye community and the Kwajalein landowners, partly because it is a coalition government formed in part from the Aelon Kein Ad Party (formerly known as the Kabua Party), which represents Kwajalein landowners and is led by Paramount Chief (Iroijlaplap) Imata Kabua. This new government is actively pursuing a more productive and mutually beneficial agreement regarding the Kwajalein Atoll Land Use Agreement with the United States.

With the election of Barack Obama to the Presidency of the United States, the new administration of the Marshall Islands, and the looming deadline for signing the Land Use Agreement (LUA), at the end of 2008, President Litokwa Tomeing wrote a letter to George W. Bush asking that the deadline for the LUA be lifted. Within a day of the expiration of this LUA deadline, the United States agreed to shift this deadline back another five years, but it reiterated its stance that the Compact renegotiation was already completed and that it expected the Republic of the Marshall Islands to abide by the MUORA it agreed to in 2003.[31] Government leaders and landowners are hopeful, however, that this extension will allow for more money to be paid to the land owners.

The U.S. Army Kwajalein Atoll (USAKA) installation has been downsizing, in part because of budget constraints and technological improvements (such as a new trans-oceanic fiber-optic cable) that will allow the testing range to be operated extensively from sites in the United States, thus minimizing operation costs and the need for on-site workers or residents. Recently, the American population of the Kwajalein installation has dropped dramatically, and the aluminum-sided trailers that once housed the bulk of the contractor population are systematically being removed from the main island. Nevertheless, the enormous investment in these new technologies and recent statements by Army leadership[32] indicate that the United States is committed to remaining in the Marshall Islands at Kwajalein Atoll for the foreseeable future.

Citizens of the Kwajalein Atoll largely supported a vote of no confidence for President Tomeing in April 2009. Subsequently, outgoing American ambassador Clyde Bishop commented[33] in late April 2009 that future funding to the entire Republic of the Marshall Islands was dependent on the use of Kwajalein.

Kwajalein atoll has been leased by the United States for missile testing and various other operations from well-prior to independence for the Marshall Islands. Although this military history has influenced the lives of the Marshall Islanders who have lived in the atoll through the war to the present, the military history of Kwajalein has prevented tourism and has kept the environment in relatively pristine condition. American civilians and their families who reside at the military installations in Kwajalein are able to utilize this environment with few restrictions.

SpaceX updated facilities on Omelek Island to launch its commercial Falcon 1 rockets. The first successful Falcon 1 space launch from Omelek was conducted in 2008.[34] It could launch Falcon 9s into polar and geosynchronous orbit. Due to a disagreement about building a new launch pad on Omelek, between either the US military and or the RMI, Space X moved their main facilities to the US and no longer uses the facilities in the atoll.[35]

Current use by U.S. military

Kwajalein and Roi-Namur are the main islands used by the U.S. personnel. Provision is made for family housing. Personnel whose family members are not with them on the island, live in hotel room style housing.

Testing sites

Eleven of the 97 islands are leased by the United States. They are part of the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site (RTS), formerly known as Kwajalein Missile Range. The lease is active from 2006-2066, with an option to renew for another twenty years.[36] Leased islands include Kwajalein, Meck, Eniwetak, Omelek, Gellinam, Gagan, Ennugarret, and Roi-Namur on the eastern side of the atoll and Ennylabegan, Legan, and Illeginni on the western side of the atoll.[37] RTS includes radar installations, optics, telemetry, and communications equipment, which are used for ballistic missile and missile-interceptor testing and space operations support.

Kwajalein has one of five ground stations used in controlling the range[38] that assist in the operation of the Global Positioning System (GPS) navigational system.

Wartime memorials

Very few Japanese or Korean remains were ever repatriated from the atoll; thus both Kwajalein and Roi-Namur have ceremonial "cemetery" sites to honor this memory. The memorial on Kwajalein was constructed by the Japan Marshall Islands War-Bereaved Families Association (Māsharu Hōmen Izokukai) in the 1960s, and the memorial on Roi-Namur was constructed by American personnel. Both memorial sites are dedicated not only to Japanese souls but also to the sacrifices of Koreans, Marshallese, and Americans. There are similar (but poorly maintained) memorial sites at various atolls throughout the Marshall Islands, with a large Japanese Peace Park on Majuro and a smaller Korean memorial nearby. U.S. Marine Corps intelligence records and photographs at the U.S. National Archives, together with the testimony of U.S. veterans, indicate that there was a mass-burial site consolidated into one place on Kwajalein islet, at or near the current cemetery. However, remains are also scattered throughout the islet, at Roi-Namur, and in various places throughout the atoll. Bereaved Japanese and Korean families have mixed sentiments about whether or not to return these remains to their home countries, as none of them are identifiable, and various "bone-collecting" missions are sometimes perceived by bereaved Japanese families as an insult to the dead or a political stunt by the Japanese government. Japanese bereaved family members also consider the sites of sunken Japanese shipwrecks in Kwajalein lagoon to be sacred gravesites. They object to the activities of American divers who attempt to explore these wrecks.[39]

A ceremony is held at Japan's Yasukuni Shrine annually in April (originally held in February to coincide with the anniversary of the battle), where the memories of the Japanese soldiers are honored and surviving families offer prayers to their spirits. Small groups of bereaved Japanese families also have made pilgrimages to Kwajalein on a semi-annual basis since the 1990s, the first of these groups being the Japan Marshall Islands War-Bereaved Families Association, which negotiated its visit with the U.S. Army as far back as 1964 and made its first visit in 1975 at the invitation of the Kwajalein Missile Range. The bereaved families of conscripted Korean laborers have also recently traveled in groups to the Marshall Islands and other parts of Micronesia, the Philippines, and Indonesia, with funding from the Japanese government, although they have not yet paid a group visit to Kwajalein.[39]

Kwajalein Island


Kwajalein island has several recreational accommodations, including two pools, multiple tennis courts, racquetball courts and basketball courts as well as playing fields for baseball, soccer and other sports. The Corlett Recreational Center (CRC) is located on the northeast side of the island and features several rooms for use by inhabitants as well as a full-size, indoor court where community and youth basketball, volleyball and indoor soccer can be played. The island also features a nine-hole golf course near the airport, a bowling alley, libraries, a fitness center and two movie theaters. Inhabitants can rent boats to use for water skiing and fishing at the Kwajalein marina. Residents spear fish, deep-sea fish and scuba dive.


On Kwajalein Island, housing is free for most personnel, depending on contract or tour of duty.[40]

Land lease disputes

Under the constitution of the Republic of the Marshall Islands the government can only own land under limited circumstances.[41] Practically, all land is private and inherited through one's matriline and clan. Since the United States began leasing land, the issue of proper land payments has been a major issue of contention for landowners which continues today. "Landowners" here refers to the consortium of irooj (chiefs), alaps (clan heads) and rijerbal (workers) who have land rights to the places used for military purposes by the United States. In the case of Kwajalein Atoll in particular, a "senior rijerbal" is also assigned a role to represent families who have claims to land as "workers" of that location.

Unclear and insufficient in the opinion of these landowners, the original lease arrangements for Kwajalein Atoll with the U.S. were finally negotiated only after the landowners and their supporters demonstrated in the early 1980s with a peaceful protest called "Operation Homecoming," in which Islanders re-inhabited their land at Kwajalein, Roi-Namur, and other restricted sites in the atoll.[42][43] Although Operation Homecoming did not achieve the level of recognition for all people with land title at Kwajalein, nor an amount of compensation that truly remunerated these families for the natural resources and lands they had lost through displacement, the resulting agreements at least set a precedent for future dealings with the United States government. One of these early agreements was the first official Military Use and Operating Rights Agreement (MUORA) between the United States Army and Government of the RMI, which was linked to the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) that was written into the larger Compact of Free Association with the United States.[44] Article 3 of the MUORA obligated the RMI to lease specific sites from their owners through a Land Use Agreement (LUA) and then sub-lease them to the United States. Effectively, this rendered the land negotiations for use of Kwajalein Atoll a "domestic issue" between the national Marshallese government in Majuro and local "landowners," even though Kwajalein, where the local Marshallese population deals on a daily basis with American military activity, is a considerable distance from Majuro. Many Kwajalein Atoll residents have complained in the past that Majuro is out of touch with the realities of Kwajalein Marshallese, and downplays their suffering while profiting from the income provided by the testing site.

The first MUORA guaranteed total payments of roughly USD $11 million to the landowners through the year 2016, the majority of which went, via the provisions of the LUA to the irooj (chiefs), who had the largest stake in the land. Some American and Marshallese observers claimed that these land payments were "misused." However, the recipients of these funds strongly maintain that these have always been "rental" payments (like a tenant pays to a landlord) that landowners could use at their own discretion, separate from whatever funds the U.S. earmarked to help develop or improve Kwajalein Atoll, which were funneled into the now-defunct Kwajalein Atoll Development Authority (KADA.)

In advance of its expiration in 2016, this LUA was renegotiated in 2003 as part of the Compact of Free Association, with the U.S. agreeing to pay the landowners (via the Republic of the Marshall Islands) $15 million a year, adjusted for inflation. In exchange for these payments, the Compact stipulated a new MUORA that gave the U.S. the option to use Kwajalein through 2066, renewable through 2086. The landowners, affiliated under the Kwajalein Negotiations Committee (KNC), were very unhappy with the proposed LUA, since they believed they should have been receiving at least double that amount in funds, and that more importantly the LUA did nothing to provide for Marshall Islanders' welfare, health care, safety, and rapidly increasing population on Ebeye. By their independent land appraisals and calculations, the KNC had already determined that the minimum acceptable compensation they should receive for Kwajalein lands was at least $19.1 million annually, adjusted for inflation. The landowners also claimed that there were many other terms by which they wished the U.S. would abide should the lease be extended, including providing better support and infrastructure to Ebeye, improving healthcare and education, guaranteeing that the missile testing was not creating environmental hazards, and providing a comprehensive life and property insurance policy.[45] Despite a consensus among the landowners to refuse to allow the Compact to be signed with this inadequate LUA proposed by the U.S., the new Compact (and the MUORA, by extension) was finalized by officials of the RMI National government and went into effect in 2003.

Stating that they had not been consulted about this agreement, the landowners went on to protest this agreement, and mounted an organized boycott of the new LUA.[46] Although the new Compact and its component MUORA was ratified in 2003, they have since held out and refused to sign the LUA of 2003, insisting, through Kwajalein Atoll elected representatives, that either a new LUA should be drafted that considers their needs or the U.S. will have to leave Kwajalein when the active LUA (which began in the 1980s) expires in 2016.

The U.S., however, considers the Compact to be an "internationally binding" agreement that has been concluded, and it thus pays an annual $15 million to the landowners, as agreed provisionally in the MUORA laid out in the 2003 Compact renegotiation; however, as this new LUA has not been signed, the difference of roughly $4 million has been going into an escrow account. The Compact stated that if the Republic of the Marshall Islands and the landowners did not reach an agreement about land payments by the end of 2008, these funds in escrow would be returned to the U.S. Treasury. Referring to this incentive to reach an agreement, then-Senator Tony deBrum stated that it would be "insane" for the Marshallese people to put up with another 70 years of lack of access.[46]


There are two airbases and three airstrips on Kwajalein Atoll:

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