Industry Pushes Back on Missile Defense Cuts

Major U.S. contractors are resisting Defense Department funding cuts that would eliminate some missile-defense projects already in the works, Reuters reported Tuesday (see GSN, May 8).

The Pentagon is looking to strip $1.2 billion from the missile defense budget in fiscal 2010, which would involve closing shop on Northrup Grumman's Kinetic Energy Interceptor and Lockheed Martin's Multiple Kill Vehicle.

Northrup has objected to the stop-work order on the grounds that it is nearly ready for a flight test of the interceptor, which would be used against enemy missiles in the early stages of flight.

"Taxpayers have invested some $1.1 billion in KEI over the last five-plus years," said company spokesman Bob Bishop. "It would be a shame to spend that money without a test to prove whether the technology works and forgo an opportunity to gather valuable data on this first-of-a-kind, high-acceleration agile missile."

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has countered that the weapon's cost and restricted capabilities are among the reasons for cutting the program, Reuters reported.

Lockheed's Multiple Kill Vehicle, which is designed to shoot down enemy missiles and decoys meant to fool normal interceptors, would not be necessary for the next 10 or 15 years given the current capabilities of potential threats such as North Korea and Iran, according to Gates.

The Multiple Kill Vehicle, which would have cost taxpayers $441 million in fiscal 2010, "was designed to deal with a more complex threat that would have come potentially from either China or Russia," Gates told lawmakers last month.

Instead, the Defense Department has prioritized projects that address "theater" missile threats and threats from rogue states.

Some programs are set to continue in a more limited fashion. The Pentagon has decided against preparing a second Airborne Laser aircraft and would only deploy 30 ground-based missile interceptors in Alaska and California (see GSN, May 22).

Gates hopes to save $170 million by forgoing deployment of the final 14 interceptors. His decision, though, is expected to face a strong challenge on Capitol Hill, said Riki Ellison, head of the industry-supported Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance.

That group is planning to send delegates from 33 states to Washington to inform Congress that U.S. citizens "are not wanting to be less protected against North Korea and Iran," Ellison said.

Some lawmakers agree that now is not the time to be cutting back on missile defense.

"A reinvigorated national missile defense system would remind our enemies that regardless of who occupies the White House, America's commitment to its security is not negotiable," according to House Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio (R-Ohio) (Jim Wolf, Reuters, June 9).

June 11, 2009
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Major U.S. contractors are resisting Defense Department funding cuts that would eliminate some missile-defense projects already in the works, Reuters reported Tuesday (see GSN, May 8).