WASHINGTON — The nation’s two top military officers leading the US missile defense enterprise replied to a letter from Sen. Carl Levin today, telling him that there is “no validated military requirement” for a proposed East Coast missile defense site as some on Capitol Hill have proposed.
The letter comes in response to a June 6 missive from Levin asking Vice Adm. James Syring, director of the Missile Defense Agency, and Lt. Gen. Richard Formica, commander of the Joint Functional Component Command for Integrated Missile Defense, for their opinions on the proposed plan.
Last week, the Republican-controlled House Armed Services Committee voted to fund a missile defense system on the East Coast, making a second attempt to get the site built despite having a similar proposal shot down by the Senate Armed Services Committee last year.
While the existing missile defense sites on the West Coast are envisioned as a way to deter — or defeat — the threat from North Korean long-range missiles, the East Coast plan is aimed at the nascent Iranian threat, lawmakers and supporters say.
Levin’s letter asked the pair if kickstarting the East Coast project before environmental assessments are completed would help identify the best location of the missile interceptor sites, to which the officers also replied “No.”
Levin also asked if there is a less expensive alternative to an East Coast site that could come on line faster than constructing a new ground-based site.
As expected, the two said that “Investment in Ballistic Missile Defense System (BMDS) discrimination and sensor capabilities would result in more cost-effective near-term improvements to homeland missile defense.”
The DoD is also looking at potential sensor enhancements to increase threat detection, they write, warning that “While a potential East Coast site would add operational capability it would also come at a significant material development and service sustainment cost.”
The House Republican proposal comes on the heels of Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel’s announcement in March that he would fund the emplacement of 14 additional missile interceptors in Alaska to guard against a possible missile attack from North Korea, which would bolster the 26 already deployed in Alaska and four in California. Plans call for the $1 billion project to be in place by the fall of 2017.
The House Armed Services Committee voted to fund the East Coast missile defense site in their 2014 defense bill markup on June 5, and the House Appropriations Defense subcommittee put more than $70 million in its 2014 Pentagon spending bill to begin constructing the shield.
GOP Rep. Mike Turner of Ohio offered an amendment to the bill saying, “the Missile Defense Agency shall construct and make operational in fiscal year 2018 an additional homeland missile defense site capable of protecting the homeland, designed to complement existing sites in Alaska and California, to deal more effectively with the long-range ballistic missile threat from the Middle East.”
The answers the generals gave Levin should come as no surprise to lawmakers, since when asked during the course of a May 8 House Strategic Forces subcommittee hearing if the $250 million proposal for an East Coast site would be a good idea, Syring replied simply, “not at this time.”