GOP Lawmakers Demand Pentagon Provide "Hedging Strategy" on Missile Defense

A patrol boat in 2009 guards the USS The Sullivans, now one of two Aegis guided missile destroyers the United States has deployed to the Mediterranean in the initial phase of the Obama administration’s “phased adaptive approach” for European missile defense. Two GOP House legislators last week asked the Pentagon to divulge its "hedging strategy" for responding to a potentially rapidly emerging ballistic missile threat or slowdowns from financial or technological obstacles to antimissile plans now in place (AP Photo).
A patrol boat in 2009 guards the USS The Sullivans, now one of two Aegis guided missile destroyers the United States has deployed to the Mediterranean in the initial phase of the Obama administration’s “phased adaptive approach” for European missile defense. Two GOP House legislators last week asked the Pentagon to divulge its "hedging strategy" for responding to a potentially rapidly emerging ballistic missile threat or slowdowns from financial or technological obstacles to antimissile plans now in place (AP Photo).

WASHINGTON -- Two senior Republican House lawmakers are demanding that the Defense Department provide them with its "hedging strategy" for protecting the United States from long-range ballistic missile attacks (see GSN, May 31).

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) and panel Strategic Forces Subcommittee Chairman Michael Turner (R-Ohio) in a Friday letter to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta accused the Pentagon of stalling for close to three years in its promise to provide the committee with the details of its hedge plan.

The fiscal 2012 National Defense Authorization Act mandates that sort of plan, which would be intended to address a rapidly developing ballistic missile danger to the United States or slowdowns produced by financial or technological obstacles to the administration's missile defense plans, according to the letter.

The Defense Department is seeking  $9.7 billion for missile defense activities in the coming fiscal year, which begins on Oct. 1. The figure represents a 6.7 percent or $700 million reduction from present spending levels. The Pentagon foresees spending a total of $47.4 billion on missile defense over the next five years (see GSN, Feb. 14).

Turner and McKeon voiced concern with the "sharp decline in the attention and resources invested in U.S. national missile defenses," which they worried could be aggravated if sequestration comes to pass and the Defense Department is forced to implement an additional $500 billion comprehensive cut over the next decade.

The United States is focusing much of its ballistic missile defense efforts on establishing a shield in Europe to counter potential Iranian missile attacks. The intent behind the effort is to intercept any Iranian missiles aimed at NATO member countries or possibly even the United States before they cross the Atlantic. 

The Obama administration discarded its predecessor's antimissile plan for Europe after taking office in 2009. The change was based on "new intelligence assessments" indicating slowed Iranian progress toward an ICBM capability, according to Turner and McKeon. They argued that further developments in Iran could be the basis for new thinking here, pointing to a new U.S. analysis that found "Iran has boosted the lethality and effectiveness of existing systems with accuracy improvements. ... Since 2008, Iran has launched multistage space launch vehicles that could serve as a test bed for developing long-range ballistic missile technologies."

Others have played down Iran's missile advances. The Iranian government does not appear to be prioritizing ICBM development, according to the Arms Control Association, which based its finding on an analysis of the U.S. military's most recent public report on the status of Iran's missile program. Rather, the Persian Gulf nation appears to be focusing on advancing its short- and medium-range missile capabilities (see GSN, July 13). 

The administration's "phased adaptive approach" for European missile defense calls for the gradual deployment through 2020 of increasingly sophisticated sea- and land-based missile interceptors. The first part of the administration's plan has already been completed with the May announcement by NATO of an interim antiballistic missile capability composed of rotating Aegis-equipped warships in the Mediterranean; an early warning radar unit in Turkey; and a command-and-control center located in Germany (see GSN, May 18). 

Washington has also reached agreements with Poland and Romania to host next-generation Standard Missile 3 interceptors and with Spain to allow Aegis-equipped warships to homeport on its territory.

At present, the principal defense of the United States against long-range missile attacks is the Ground-based Midcourse Defense system, which encompasses interceptor sites in Alaska and California.

The Republican-controlled House in May approved its fiscal 2013 defense authorization bill, which included an order for the Pentagon to study options for creating an East Coast interceptor site that is to be established by the end of 2015. The Defense Department has said such a site is not needed and that the interceptors deployed in Alaska and California are sufficient for protecting the United States from ballistic missile threats (see GSN, June 15).

However, U.S. Strategic Command chief Gen. Robert Kehler said in late May the military was considering a third interceptor site among a host of options for its hedge strategy.

McKeon and Turner called on the Pentagon to deliver the hedging strategy, along with slides from a March informational session on the issue, by early August for consideration by the committee.

They also requested answers to several questions from Panetta, including whether Iran is believed to be seeking an ICBM and when such a weapon could be fielded; what Iran's potential decision to produce a continent-spanning missile might indicate about its suspected plans for nuclear arms or other unconventional weapons (see GSN story today); and if there are "further developments" indicating North Korea's intention to field a road-transportable ICBM in 2012 (see GSN, June 14).

"The committee is in receipt of almost $8 billion in FY12 reprogramming requests, with significant sums of money intended for missile defense capabilities and capabilities oriented to a potential conflict with a regional threat," the letter says. "We therefore believe it is appropriate for our requests in this letter to be answered prior to any decision by the committee on those matters."

The Pentagon did not return requests for comment as of press time.

July 17, 2012
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WASHINGTON -- Two senior Republican House lawmakers are demanding that the Defense Department provide them with its "hedging strategy" for protecting the United States from long-range ballistic missile attacks.