The Department of Defense awarded a contract worth nearly $5 million to a Point Hope Native corporation to prepare Fort Greely to become a national missile defense test site.

The award is the most concrete step yet in transforming the shuttered base outside Delta Junction into the eventual core of the Pentagon's desired missile shield.

The Army Corps of Engineers awarded the site preparation contract Friday to Aglaq Construction Enterprises, a subsidiary of Tikigaq Native Corp. Aglaq will subcontract with a Fairbanks firm, Brice Inc.

The contract calls for the company to clear trees to allow for the future installation of interceptor missile silos, build a main access road, drill two water wells, and conduct other work, including soil excavation and grading.

The Army Corps of Engineers plans to issue a formal notice of the contract next week and work could start immediately afterward. The contract calls for the site work to be completed by mid-December.

The Pentagon hopes to subsequently construct up to five missile silos at Fort Greely as part of an expanded Pacific ``test bed'' for the proposed national missile defense system.

Proposed funding for that work awaits congressional approval.

"We're looking to do possible silo construction and other stuff next April at Fort Greely," Lt. Col. Rick Lehner, spokesman for the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization in Washington D.C., told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.