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Democrats Accuse GOP of Playing Politics on East Coast Interceptor Site

Democratic lawmakers intend on Wednesday to battle their Republican colleagues on the House Armed Services Committee over a plan to establish a long-range missile interceptor site on the East Coast, The Hill reported (see GSN, April 27).

The panel's GOP-led Strategic Forces Subcommittee last month approved a measure in the fiscal 2013 National Defense Authorization Act that would order the Pentagon to explore creating a third missile interceptor site under the Ground-based Midcourse Defense system. The envisioned East Coast silo-based interceptors would be principally focused at protecting the U.S. mainland from Iranian ballistic missiles.

Subcommittee Republicans want to see the new interceptor site activated no later than the start of 2016 and have approved $100 million to begin implementing the plan.

Democrats see the move as a political effort aimed at setting up a showdown with the White House that could give Republicans a chance to depict President Obama as weak on national defense. 

"This is a political move. Every time the election comes around, the Republicans run out a national security agenda," said Representative John Garamendi (D-Calif.).

The Defense Department maintains that the 30 GMD interceptors now deployed in Alaska and California are enough to defeat ballistic missiles launched from the east. A regional antimissile system in Europe currently under construction is also envisioned as giving the United States an earlier opportunity to intercept ballistic missiles fired by Iran.

A White House spokesman would not comment on the proposed new interceptor site.

Republican Hill staffers insist there is a real defense need for an East Coast interceptor site, particularly as the missile shield envisioned for Europe might take longer to implement than originally envisioned. The Obama administration's "phased adaptive approach" is intended by 2020 to deploy increasing advanced sea- and land-based interceptors around Europe, but two recent government reports found the program beset by technology development challenges and schedule delays (see GSN, April 23).

Having a domestic third interceptor site ready to go in a few years would provide a firmer missile security guarantee for the United States, an unidentified Republican staffer said.

"You cannot open a newspaper or turn on a TV ... without seeing a story of the rising threat from Iran and North Korea to mainland United States," House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee Chairman Michael Turner (R-Ohio) said in an interview with The Hill.

"With these emerging threats it is inevitable that an East Coast site will be necessary in order to ensure we have the ability to lessen the threats from both Iran and North Korea," said Turner, who sponsored the interceptor measure in the defense bill.

North Korea's last four long-range rocket test firings have all been judged as failures, with the most recent attempt in April ending when the rocket split apart shortly after liftoff. Iran, meanwhile, is not known to have any ballistic missile that can travel further than 800 miles (see GSN, April 26).

Strategic Forces Subcommittee Ranking Member Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.) said the Iranian ballistic missile danger to the United States is exaggerated. She and Garamendi both intend to put forth amendments that would remove the third interceptor site from the defense authorization bill.

Democratic House lawmakers see the third interceptor site proposal as a case of unnecessary and wasteful defense spending that is particularly unhelpful in the current austere budget climate.

"Our military leaders have told us [a third interceptor is] not necessary. They want to get the kinks out of the system they currently have," Sanchez said to the newspaper. 

The subcommittee's top Democrat projected that the final price tag of a third interceptor site would be roughly $4 billion. A committee staffer, though, said it would likely cost $2 billion to place 20 long-range interceptors on the East Coast (Jeremy Herb, The Hill, May 8).

Note to our Readers

GSN ceased publication on July 31, 2014. Its articles and daily issues will remain archived and available on NTI’s website.

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