14 September 2013
Update on East Coast Missiles

By Kingston Reif
Nukes of Hazard


Sorry for the light blogging as of late. We plan to pick it up over the next few weeks so be sure to visit this space often.

Let's start with the Missile Defense Agency's announcement last week that it is considering five candidates for a potential third homeland missile defense site.

To refresh your memory, Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee have for the past two years attempted to force the Pentagon to spend money that it doesn't have - to begin building a long-range missile defense site on the East Coast that it doesn't want - to buttress US defenses against a long-range missile threat from Iran that doesn't exist.

While this dubious scheme hasn't gained any traction in the Senate, the final version of last year's National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) required the Pentagon, specifically the Missile Defense Agency, to conduct a study by the end of 2013 to evaluate at least three possible locations for a third homeland missile defense site, at least two of which would be on the East Coast. The final bill also required the Pentagon to prepare an environmental impact statement for each location. The legislation did not authorize any specific funds for the evaluation and environmental impact statements, and no funding was included in the final 2013 continuing resolution Congress passed in March. The Pentagon requested no money for a third missile defense site in its FY 2014 budget request, nor or is there any more for such a site in its Future Years Defense Program. .

The Missile Defense Agency began the initial site selection study required by the FY 2013 NDAA earlier this year with a list of 450 federally owned states, and has since whittled that list down to five. The lucky finalists are: Fort Drum, New York; Camp Ethan Allen Training Site in Vermont; SERE Training Area at Naval Air Station Portsmouth, Maine; Camp Ravenna Joint Training Center in Ohio; and Fort Custer Training Center in Michigan.

(Insert your Fort Custer jokes here. Joking aside, from a technical standpoint the sites in Ohio and Michigan don't make much sense: they're too far South to be optimum to provide a shoot-look-shoot capability against Iran. But I digress...)

In a September 12 letter to Senators representing the states in which these sites are located, the Missile Defense Agency stated that in the coming months it will conduct further analysis on these sites to develop a list of sites suitable for an environmental impact study, which will take 18-24 months.

While the Pentagon is continuing to study a possible East Coast site, the September 12 letter reiterated that no decision has been made to deploy a third homeland missile defense site.

Indeed, the Pentagon is openly hostile to the idea.

in a June 10 letter to Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-MI), Vice Admiral James Syring, Director of the Missile Defense Agency, and Lt. Gen. Richard Formica, Commander, Joint Functional Command for Integrated Missile Defense, unequivocally stated: “There is no validated military requirement to deploy an East Coast missile defense site.”

Admiral Syring and General Formica went on to say that there currently are more cost effective and less expensive alternatives to improve the defense of the U.S. homeland than an East Coast site. These alternatives including improving the sensor and discrimination capabilities of the ground-based midcourse defense system.

Assistant Secretary of Defense for Global Strategic Affairs Madelyn Creedon told Reuters last week that a third homeland missile defense site would be "extraordinarily expensive." According to the Congressional Budget Office, expanding the ground-based midcourse defense system to the East Coast would cost approximately $3.5 billion over the next five years.

Creedon also noted that the Pentagon is "very worried" that it won't be able to afford the missile defense needs it has already determined a requirement for, namely the addition of 14 ground based midcourse defense interceptors at the existing Fort Greeley site in Alaska.

As if the idea of a third homeland defense site weren't ridiculous enough, there have been no successful flight intercept tests for the past five years of the system that proponents want deployed at the site: the ground based midcourse defense system. Since early December 2002, a little over ten years, ten flight intercept tests of the ground based midcourse defense system have been attempted. The record is six failures, three successes, and one unsuccessful test because the target failed to launch properly.

So far, the reaction from Members of Congress representing the five remaining sites has ranged from "not in my back yard" to "I want it in my state if its deemed to be necessary" to "I want it in my district no matter what".

Regardless of whether a decision is made to deploy a third site (I think its unlikely at this point), it will be some time (probably 2018 or 2019 at the earliest), before the site would actually be operational.

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