The National Defense Authorization Act that has emerged from conference negotiations would add $30 million for the planning and design of an East Coast missile defense site and speed up its possible deployment, a victory for some congressional Republicans who have long fought for traction to move forward with the possible project.
Language in the House and Senate conference report released Tuesday would require the Missile Defense Agency director to choose a "preferred location" in the US for the "potential" future deployment of an additional missile defense site no later than 30 days after the publication of the draft environmental impact statements being conducted for possible locations.
The draft impact studies are expected to be complete by January 2016 and finalized between April and July, according to the NDAA conference report.
The four possible sites are Fort Drum in New York, the SERE Training Area at Naval Air Station in Maine, the Fort Custer Training Center in Michigan and the Camp Ravenna Joint Training Center in Ohio.
Should the NDAA become law, it would also require the defense secretary to submit a plan — no later than 30 days after the impact statements are released — to expedite the deployment time for a potential third site by at least two years.
The Pentagon should pinpoint a potential third site based on the environmental impact statements and also on operational and cost effectiveness, the conference report states.
The comptroller general would then have 90 days to assess the plan and issue a report on findings and recommendations.
And while Republican lawmakers succeeded in getting language into the NDAA that represents forward progress for the site, the Pentagon has been vocal that it doesn't need, nor can it afford, a third missile defense site in the US.
The Missile Defense Agency has said the two Ground-based Midcourse Defense systems buried at sites in Alaska and California are enough to defend against current threats posed by North Korea and Iran.
The agency has also stressed other programs are more important to the defense of the homeland such as developing better discrimination tools to identify incoming missiles and addressing problems with the Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicle, part of the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense System's interceptors that destroy missiles in flight.
Funding such possible programs as an East Coast missile shield would delay other important improvements that need to be made to the existing systems as well as development efforts to bring down the cost of these systems, defense officials have said.
An East Coast missile defense site would be expensive. The commander of the Army's Space and Missile Defense Command, Lt. Gen. David Mann, said in February that it could cost at least $3 billion.
The NDAA conference negotiators are also calling for studies and evaluations of a possible homeport for a sea-based x-band radar. Sixty days after the NDAA becomes law, the Missile Defense Agency is required to start a detailed assessment of at least three possible sites that include environmental impact studies.
The law would require the agency to deploy, no later than the end of 2020, a long-range discrimination radar or "other appropriate sensor capability" in a location "optimized to support the defense of the homeland" from "emerging long-range ballistic missile threats from Iran," the conference report states.
The MDA director would be required to include plans for additional missile defense sensor coverage starting in fiscal 2017 through fiscal 2020 in its budget justification documents sent to Congress.