WASHINGTON — Republican Senate Armed Services Committee member Sen. Kelly Ayotte says the Obama administration intends to “cancel,” not restructure, the SM-3 Block II missile program, and that the White House and Pentagon are bowing to Moscow’s demands.
During a Tuesday speech at the Heritage Foundation, the New Hampshire senator labeled a recent SM-3 program announcement “a further concession to Vladimir Putin,” Russia’s once-and-again president.
While new Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced last Friday the administration intends to restructure the SM-3 Block II program, Ayotte said the White House’s true aim is to terminate it.
“We had planned to deploy the SM-3 IIB as part of the European Phased Adaptive Approach. The purpose was to add to the protection of the U.S. homeland already provided by our current GBIs [ground-based interceptors] against missile threats from the Middle East,” Hagel said during a Pentagon briefing last Friday. “The timeline for deploying this program had been delayed to at least 2022 due to cuts in congressional funding. Meanwhile, the threat matures.”
The White House and Pentagon intend to shift SM-3 Block II monies toward the fielding of additional ground-based missile interceptor systems and other platforms.
“By shifting resources from this lagging program to fund the additional GBIs as well as advance-kill vehicle technology that will improve the performance of the GBI and other versions of the SM-3 interceptor, we will be able to add protection against missiles from Iran sooner,” Hagel said, “while also providing additional protection against the North Korean threat.”
Ayotte vaguely alluded to information that has been shared “privately” with some senators that she said indicates North Korea may indeed have the technology to hit the United States.
Additionally, Ayotte vowed to continue “fighting” for the erection of a missile defense system in the northeastern United States to shield eastern seaboard states and Canada from Iranian missiles.
Ayotte and other GOP senators and House members want to place “two-stage interceptors” that she says would create ‘shoot-look-shoot’ protection of the entire country.”
Missile defense systems on the West Coast give Americans living west of the Mississippi River such protection from missiles that might be launched by North Korea or other Asia-based American foes.
“I don’t know about you, but I’d rather have two shots,” Ayotte said. “It makes sense to me that we’d protect the entire country, not just half of the country.”
Because it would take “five or six years” to build the envisioned East Coast shield, Ayotte says the U.S. should get started before Iran develops a missile capable of scaling the Atlantic Ocean and striking an eastern American city or strategic target.
Ayotte made clear she will take heat from some political opponents and observers for promoting what would be a job-creating project in her own region.
She applauded the Obama administration’s recent moves to bolster American missile defenses, but charged it with “playing catch up” on countering North Korean and Iranian missile threats.
“Now, I’m not doing this just because I am a senator in the northeast,” Ayotte said with a slight chuckle.
Notably, Ayotte revealed she is “hearing” there are plans on President Barack Obama’s desk that would “further reduce” the U.S. nuclear deterrent arsenal “by one-third.” What’s more, she said, the same scuttlebutt indicates the plans urge Obama to do so without using the existing treaty process, which requires the approval of the Senate.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., told reporters he doubts the East Coast missile concept is gaining momentum following recent North Korean saber rattling.
Rather than giving East Coast system proponents new ammunition, Levin said he hopes efforts now underway will show them such a site is not needed.
He cited ongoing work within the Pentagon to determine whether such a system is needed, and a new Obama administration plan to install 14 new missile interceptors in California and Alaska.
“I hope that people will step back a little and let these two efforts take place,” Levin said.