Pentagon To Beef Up U.S. Missile Shield

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In the wake of North Korea’s successful satellite launch in December and subsequent test of a nuclear device, the Pentagon will deploy more missile interceptors in Alaska as part of a multipronged approach to counter the threat, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced March 15.

The plan includes adding 14 ground-based ballistic missile interceptors at Fort Greely, Alaska, deploying a new missile warning radar in Japan, and conducting environmental studies for a third ground-based interceptor site in the eastern United States.

To pay for these efforts, the Pentagon plans to shift funds from an effort to develop a new interceptor dubbed the Standard Missile-3 Block 2B, which was supposed to be deployed in Poland starting in 2022 as part of the White House’s European Phased Adaptive Approach missile defense strategy, Hagel said.

Hagel said the new plan was specifically aimed at combating recent technological advances in Iran and North Korea. He said rhetoric from those countries in recent weeks has included “irresponsible and reckless provocations.”

Appearing with Hagel at a Pentagon press conference, U.S. Navy Adm. James Winnefeld, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Pentagon officials believe a North Korean missile “probably does have the range to reach the United States.”

The primary thrust of the Pentagon’s new strategy entails beefing up the U.S. territorial shield, which currently features 26 interceptors installed at Fort Greely and four at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. Fort Greely would get an additional 14 operational interceptors under the plan, Hagel said.

This expansion is expected to cost about $1 billion and will be included in the 2014 budget request U.S. President Barack Obama is expected to submit to Congress in early April.

“We will strengthen our homeland defense, maintain our commitments to our allies and partners, and make clear to the world that the United States stands firm against aggression,” Hagel said.

Hagel said the Defense Department also would conduct environmental assessments for another ground based interceptor site in the United States. Officials are investigating three locations, two on the East Coast, which they did not specify, and another at Fort Greely.

Studies have indicated that the installation of high-speed interceptors somewhere in the eastern United States would better protect against threats from Iran. These studies have questioned the effectiveness in that role of Standard Missile-3 Block 2B interceptors installed in Europe.

Hagel said the new strategy would shift resources away from the Standard Missile-3 Block 2B development program, which has already been restructured due to funding shortfalls. The program currently is the subject of a three-way competition between Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Raytheon.

The new strategy drew qualified praise from congressional Republicans who have been critical of Obama’s missile defense strategy, particularly the European Phased Adaptive Approach.

“Drastic cuts to missile defense have been a hallmark of this Administration,” Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), co-chairman of the congressional missile defense caucus, said in a statement. “However, it is both refreshing and heartening to see that the considerable threat posed to the United States by rogue nations like North Korea, Iran, and their proxies is finally being taken more seriously.”