Pentagon Looks to Slash Missile Defense Agency Funding

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said yesterday that his proposed budget for the next fiscal year would cut funding at the Missile Defense Agency by $1.4 billion and eliminate one program (see GSN, April 6).

The reduction is part of a larger budget restructuring intended to demonstrate the Pentagon's commitment to military personnel, buttress its ability to manage today's wars and conflicts likely to arise in coming years, and reform the procurement, acquisition and contracting processes, Gates said during a press conference.

"My decisions have been almost exclusively influenced by factors other than simply finding a way to balance the books or fit under the top line, as is normally the case with most budget exercises," he said. "Instead these recommendations are the product of a holistic assessment of capabilities, requirements, risks and needs for the purpose of shifting this department in a different strategic direction."

The Defense Department does not plan to deploy additional silo-based missile interceptors at Fort Greely, Alaska and will kill the Multiple Kill Vehicle program -- intended to place more than one weapon on a booster -- "because of its significant technical challenges and the need to take a fresh look at the requirement," Gates said.

The Pentagon also would scrap plans for a second Boeing 747 equipped with Airborne Laser technology, which would be used to destroy missiles in the boost phase of flight.

"The ABL program has significant affordability and technology problems, and the program's proposed operational role is highly questionable," Gates said.

However, the Pentagon is seeking an additional $700 million for theater missile defense programs -- the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense system and the Standard Missile 3. It also wants another $200 million to equip six more warships with ballistic missile defense systems.

"We will continue to robustly fund continued research and development to improve the capability we already have to defend against long-range rogue missile threats, a threat North Korea's missile launch this past weekend reminds us is real," Gates said (see GSN, April 6).

The Pentagon also in the next fiscal year plans to begin work on replacing its Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines, but will not move forward with development of a new Air Force bomber "until we have a better understanding of the need, the requirement and the technology," Gates said.

"We will examine all of our strategic requirements during the Quadrennial Defense Review, the Nuclear Posture Review, and in light of post-START arms control negotiations," he said (see GSN, April 1).

Fiscal 2010 begins Oct. 1 (U.S. Defense Department release, April 6).

Gates' proposal to cut missile defense programs quickly raised objections from lawmakers who must give approval to the $534 billion budget plan, the Washington Times reported.

"These proposals would amount to almost a 15 percent cut in the [Missile Defense Agency] budget and a major reduction in our missile defense portfolio -- actions that we fear could undermine our emerging missile defense capabilities to protect the United States against a growing threat," according to a letter from Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Joseph Lieberman (ID-Conn.) and five other senators from both parties.

"North Korea's launch of a long-range ballistic missile should be a clarion wake-up call to the whole world that this is not the time to diminish our missile-defense budget, as proposed by the Obama administration," according to Representative Trent Franks (R-Ariz.).

However, Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) expressed support for the reductions.

"I strongly support Secretary Gates' decision to restructure a number of major defense programs," he said. "It has long been necessary to shift spending away from weapon systems plagued by scheduling and cost overruns to ones that strike the correct balance between the needs of our deployed forces and the requirements for meeting the emerging threats of tomorrow" (Sara Carter, Washington Times, April 7).

April 7, 2009

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said yesterday that his proposed budget for the next fiscal year would cut funding at the Missile Defense Agency by $1.4 billion and eliminate one program (see GSN, April 6).