Kwajalein Atoll (Marshallese: Kuwajleen [kʷuw.wɔ͡ɛt̪ʲ.l̪ʲɪn̪ʲ]; common English pronunciation [ˈkʷɒʤəˌlɪn], often nicknamed Kwaj [kʷɒʤ] by English-speaking residents of the U.S. facilities) is part of the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI). It lies in the Ralik Chain, 2,100 nautical miles (3900 km) southwest of Honolulu, Hawaii at 8°43′N 167°44′E. Kwajalein is one of the world's largest coral atolls as measured by area of enclosed water. Comprising 97 islets, it has a land area of 16.4 km², and surrounds one of the largest lagoons in the world, with an area of 2174 km².
Since 1944, when the U.S. captured the atoll from the Japanese in the Battle of Kwajalein, it has been used for military purposes, while escaping the tragic fates of the nearby atolls of Bikini, Rongelap and Enewetak as the atoll has never been nuked or covered with any significant nuclear fallout. Eleven of the 97 islands are leased by the United States and are part of the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site (RTS), formerly known as Kwajalein Missile Range. RTS includes radar installations, optics, telemetry, and communications equipment which are used for ballistic missile and missile interceptor testing and space operations support. Kwajalein hosts one of three ground antennas (others are on Diego Garcia and Ascension Island) that assist in the operation of the Global Positioning System (GPS) navigational system. More recently, the extensive infrastructure has attracted SpaceX, which built a commercial launch site on Omelek Island for its Falcon 1 and Falcon 5 rockets. The U.S. Army makes some of its technology available for commercial endeavors in exchange for range fees.
Kwajalein Island is the southernmost, and the largest, of the islands in the Kwajalein atoll. The northernmost, and second largest, island is Roi-Namur. These are the two main islands used by the U.S. Staff and their families are accommodated in trailers or hard housing. Unaccompanied personnel live in apartment style housing. The population of Kwajalein island is approximately 2,500, all of whom are U.S. staff. The primary mode of personal transportation is the bicycle and housing is free for all personnel.
US Infantry inspect a hole after capturing the Kwajalein Atoll from Japan during World War IIThe military history of Kwajalein has made tourism almost non-existent and has kept the environment in pristine condition. Kwajalein lagoon offers excellent wreck diving of mostly Japanese ships, a few planes and the German heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen. Spear fishing and deep sea fishing are also exceptional. 80 degree water temperature and 100 foot visibility are common when scuba diving on the ocean side of the atoll.
A neighboring island Ebeye has the largest population in the atoll, with approximately 12,000 native residents living on 80 acres (320,000 m²) of land. Ebeye is one of the most densely populated places in the world.
Roi-Namur used to be 3 separate islands: Roi, Namur and Enidrikdrik. After WWII, while the US had control of the atoll, they mostly paved over Enidrikdrik and renamed the resulting island Roi-Namur.
Since 1961 several tests of anti-ballistic missiles were performed on Kwajalein. Therefore there are launchpads on Illeginni Island ( 9.0000° N 167.7000° E), Roi-Namur Island ( 9.4012° N 167.4663° E) and Kwajalein Drop Zone, Pacif