HUNTSVILLE, Ala. -- The Missile Defense Agency is set to choose a preferred site for a possible future East Coast ground-based ballistic missile defense site by the end of the year, Vice Adm. James Syring said Wednesday at the Space and Missile Defense Symposium.

In June, MDA released preliminary reports from environmental studies conducted on three sites – the Fort Custer Training Center in Michigan, Camp Ravenna Joint Training Center in Ohio and Fort Drum in New York -- whittled down from an initial 400 possible locations.

Congress required MDA to study the three sites for feasibility and make a recommendation on a preferred site as part of its fiscal 2013 National Defense Authorization Act.

Congress has pushed for a third Ground-Based Midcourse Defense system interceptor site to protect the US from possible ballistic missile attacks from Iran and North Korea. The GMD system presently consists of two sites in Alaska and California where ground-based interceptors are already in place.

"This has been a very thorough process," Syring said. The site assessments "will be thousands of pages long."

He added MDA is working on a contingency plan to cover the costs and execute a way forward in parallel with the rest of the assessments should a decision be made for an East Coast site.

Syring took pains to stress MDA is in no way advocating for an East Coast site. Syring and other MDA officials have said repeatedly the site is not necessary and would prefer to focus on increasing the reliability of the current interceptors by improving boosters and redesigning the Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicle in California and Alaska, among other priorities such as threat discrimination. An East Coast missile defense site would be expensive with an estimated cost of at least $3 billion.

"I just want to caution everybody that is a preferred site, that doesn't mean a decision has been made, that there is funding available to build this, all of that is a 'no' at this point," Syring said. "But there will be a preferred site and I think the work we have done, when budget and when the priority rises for the extra capacity, in my view, once the kill vehicle is redesigned and once the booster has been upgraded, this will cut down the process once a decision is made significantly to have this in the can and ready to go."


Twitter: @JenJudson