WASHINGTON — A key House subcommittee last week cut funding for a controversial Missile Defense Agency test using a space-based interceptor, congressional staffers said (see GSN, April 29). A key Senate committee, meanwhile, urged a change to the plan.
In a closed-door session to mark up the fiscal 2005 defense appropriations bill, the Republican-controlled House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense removed all $68 million requested by the Bush administration for the planned Near Field Infrared Experiment (NFIRE), which critics have said could be a first step toward weaponizing space.
Missile Defense officials have said the interceptor could collide with the target, though they said that that is not the purpose of the experiment. Critics said the test would set a precedent for using space-based weapons, which faces opposition from some in Congress and more widely the international community, including potential missile defense partners.
The NFIRE program, which has been funded at least since fiscal 2003, is scheduled to launch a satellite in 2005, and from that satellite in 2006 to launch a space-based interceptor to gather data on the appearance of an approaching missile, according to the agency.
A House Democratic staffer said the fact that the Republican-controlled committee cut the program suggests it was not strongly backed by the administration.
“The majority put this [bill] together. … It just seems to me that if this was something the White House wanted, they were not going to cut it,” he said.
Senate ChangeThe House Armed Services Committee last month authorized full NFIRE funding in the 2005 defense authorization bill.
The Senate Armed Services Committee also authorized the funding, but added the condition that the test be conducted in a way to avoid intercepting the target.
“The committee is concerned that effects of the space debris from such an impact are not well enough understood,” it said.
That committee also required a Missile Defense Agency report by March 15, 2005, on the risks to space assets posed by debris that would result from an impact, and urged the agency to explore cost-effective alternatives for collecting near-field data on missile plumes.