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U.S. Looking "Very Hard" at Future of Missile Interceptor: Pentagon

By Rachel Oswald

Global Security Newswire

A U.S. Standard Missile 3 Block 1A interceptor lifts off from the USS Lake Erie in a Feb. 13 trial. The Pentagon is looking "very hard" at the future of a next-generation SM-3 system, a senior official said on Tuesday (U.S. Missile Defense Agency photo). A U.S. Standard Missile 3 Block 1A interceptor lifts off from the USS Lake Erie in a Feb. 13 trial. The Pentagon is looking "very hard" at the future of a next-generation SM-3 system, a senior official said on Tuesday (U.S. Missile Defense Agency photo).

WASHINGTON -- A top official on Tuesday said the Defense Department was looking “very hard” at whether to move forward with development of an ambitious ICBM interceptor, which has been hampered by a lack of sufficient funding from Congress and doubts about the technical feasibility of the project.

The Standard Missile 3 Block 2B interceptor has been bedeviled by congressional appropriators, who have refused for years to provide the funding levels sought by the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency for the project.

“The reality is that with the underfunding of our [budget] requests from Congress for FY 2012 and the continuing resolution, our ability to deploy the [2B interceptor]  has slipped at least two years,” Defense Undersecretary for Policy James Miller said at a missile defense conference organized by the Atlantic Council.

"We are continuing to look very hard at" whether to move forward with Block 2B development or to pursue other antimissile options, Miller said.

The Pentagon would ultimately base any decision first on what is best for homeland missile defense and second on what is good for European missile protection, the official added.

The interceptor is entirely theoretical at this point and is conceived for fielding in Europe around 2022 under the Obama administration’s “phased adaptive approach” for missile defense. The next-generation weapon is envisioned as having the capability to defeat medium and intermediate-range ballistic missiles launched against Europe as well as first-generation ICBMs fired at the U.S. mainland from Iran.

Both independent and government analyses have raised serious doubts about the missile’s ability to meet the latter requirement.

The Government Accountability Office in a recent report found that current basing options in Europe for the interceptor were logistically problematic. The United States has struck agreements with both Poland and Romania to host Standard Missile 3 interceptors. However, neither of those countries is particularly well-placed for basing SM-3 missiles whose primary function is defeating ICBMs launched against the United States from the Middle East, according to congressional auditors.

A separate 2012 congressionally mandated study by the National Research Council concluded the Block 2B interceptor was not needed for the ballistic missile defense of Europe and that deploying the system to certain U.S. locations would provide better protection here.

Without specifically responding to audience questions about the technical feasibility of the Block 2B interceptor, Miller said the Pentagon was closely studying the NRC findings.

The Missile Defense Agency at present does not plan to issue a call to weapons contractors for Block 2B development proposals until spring 2014.

Republican lawmakers have called for establishing an ICBM interceptor site on the U.S. East Coast, though that is foreseen as involving the Ground-based Midcourse Defense system. That Missile Defense Agency program has to date deployed 30 long-range interceptors in Alaska and California that are primarily aimed at defeating any strategic ballistic missiles launched from North Korea.

The Defense Department is presently initiating environmental impact studies for three alternative locations for hosting a new GMD site in the United States, according to Miller. “Let me be clear, we have not made a decision to go forward with the new East Coast missile site. We are initiating studies at the direction of Congress.”

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