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US Missile Defense Chief Backs East Coast Radars, More Interceptor Sites

Jul. 17, 2013 - 03:45AM   |  
By PAUL McLEARY   |   Comments
The Missile Defense Agency tests a long-range interceptor missile launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., in December 2010.
The Missile Defense Agency tests a long-range interceptor missile launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., in December 2010. ()
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WASHINGTON — US Vice Adm. James Syring, director of the Missile Defense Agency, confirmed today that the controversial Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system failed to intercept a dummy rocket over the Pacific on July 5 because “the kill vehicle did not separate” from the booster rocket, as has been speculated.

Testifying before the Senate defense appropriations subcommittee, Syring also told the panel that while his funding for fiscal 2014 is adequate for the testing and modernization programs that his shop envisions, the current base budget might not be adequate as threats change.

While never coming after the witness specifically, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., lobbed some harsh criticisms against the overall missile defense program, complaining that even after spending $150 billion over 30 years on missile defense, the US government hasn’t been able to conduct a successful test in five years.

Syring responded simply that continued testing is imperative to improve the program, and that for 2014, “we’re budgeted properly to do that. I won’t say that additional money won’t be required, but the budget as it’s currently structured has adequate funding to complete the development” of the older Capability Enhancement (CE) I kill vehicle and the newer, untested CE II kill vehicle.

Durbin shot back that “there are still serious questions whether or not we have a missile defense system that can protect America against threats that we believe could be coming our way,” adding that “this committee and Congress are being asked by some to expand the amount of money we spend on the systems at a time when testing has not proven that tests systems are effective.”

Of particular concern to the senator is the fact that the US missile defense system has yet to be tested against intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), and that the planned CEII kill vehicle has not been tested outside of simulations, despite the fact that it is currently installed on 10 of 30 rockets in the US arsenal.

Syring assured him that “we have extensive modeling and simulation capability that projects the results of our conducted intercepts testing” and the modeling tests “indicate that we would be successful” in hitting an intercontinental ballistic missile launched at the United States.

He also said that the CE II kill vehicle is on track for a March 2014 test, and that “we’re in the process of manufacturing a target” to conduct ICBM tests by 2015, and there are eight ICBM tests scheduled by 2020.

While Syring sought to assuage the worries of the panel about his modeling and simulation capacities, some analysts were not comforted.

Syring “confirmed that the tests of the ground based midcourse defense system are undertaken in a ‘controlled, scripted environment’ and that the system has never been tested against an ICBM-class target” said Kington Reif, director of nuclear non-proliferation at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation.

“So even the successful tests don’t prove that the system would work under real world battlefield conditions.”

In March, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced that the Pentagon would spend $1 billion on 14 new missile interceptor sites in Alaska, bringing the nation’s total up to 44 sites.

Syring said that might only be the beginning.

“The 44 addresses [is for] what we see with North Korea today,” he said, but there is the real potential “to go beyond 44 as we start to evaluate the threat from Iran and from other nations.”

There will be contracts released this summer to begin the work on the 14 intercept sites at Fort Greeley in Alaska, Syring announced. The price tag will be about $75 million per interceptor.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Ark., who represents the state that hosts 26 of the current 30 missile interceptor sites — as well as all 14 of the new sites — questioned the admiral about how he would use the money he receives in the next budget.

“I would spend our next dollars on discriminating sensors, meaning big radars west and east to give us the capability [to meet] where I see that threat going in the next five to 10 years.”

That made Sen. Susan Collins happy, since she supports the installation of additional interceptor sites on the East Coast, particularly in her state of Maine.

“I know my state of Maine is a very welcoming place for military installations of this sort,” she said.

Syring confirmed that the Pentagon is considering two sites in Maine among other locations, and when Collins asked if his office is taking local support into consideration, he assured her that “it will be a factor in our decision.”

The Republican-controlled House Armed Services Committee has voted to fund an East Coast missile defense system, but the Senate Armed Services Committee may well block the move again this year, as it did in the 2013 budget.

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