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Senators Pushed to Expand Antimissile System Despite Tech Problems: Report

Alabama senators, whose state stood to profit from military contracts, in recent years pushed to expand an antimissile system despite officials' objections.

The Ground-based Midcourse Defense system -- comprised of 30 strategic interceptors deployed in Alaska and California -- is the country's principal defense against a limited long-range ballistic missile attack. Boeing is the primary contractor for the system; Raytheon is the developer of its radars and the troubled kinetic kill vehicle atop each interceptor. Thousands of jobs in Alabama depend either directly or indirectly on the GMD system, according to a Sunday Los Angeles Times article.

The costly system has been frequently criticized in recent years for its inability to destroy ballistic missile targets. The last successful test intercept took place in 2008. Another hotly anticipated intercept attempt is scheduled for June 22.

The Times investigation showed that the then-director of the Pentagons' Missile Defense Agency, Lt. Gen. Patrick O'Reilly, sought in 2008-2009 to reallocate program funding from preparing a third interceptor field in Alaska to fixing technology problems with the kill vehicle.

He was ultimately overruled by then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates following private lobbying by a group of senators, including Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), who did not want to see work on the third field postponed. When Gates was preparing to travel to Fort Greely, Alaska, where a number of the silo-based interceptors were deployed, O'Reilly reportedly wanted to join the trip. However, O'Reilly said he was stymied by the secretary's assistants and did not get an opportunity to personally make the case for delaying an expansion in favor of improving the kill vehicle.

Sessions is one of the Senate's biggest proponents for quickly expanding the Ground-based Midcourse Defense system. During a 2010 hearing he told O'Reilly he was "concerned about whether or not we're building enough, we're deploying enough, of these missiles."

Sessions has repeatedly resisted efforts to decelerate the pace of expanding the system, according to the Times. His fellow Alabama senator, Richard Shelby (R), who is the ranking member of the Appropriations Committee, has similarly attempted to sidestep questions about the program's rising price tag and whether the system's expansion should be halted until technology problems are worked out.

"We're interested in cost," Shelby said at an appropriations subcommittee hearing in July 2013. "We're also interested in defending this country."

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