MDA’s 2014 Spending Would Dip Only Slightly Despite Cancellations

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WASHINGTON — Savings resulting from the termination of three major programs, including a space-based missile tracking system, are mostly offset by spending increases on other activities in a U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA) budget request for 2014 that is some $200 million lower than the current-year funding level, budget documents show.

U.S. President Barack Obama is requesting $7.7 billion for MDA programs next year, compared to a $7.5 billion appropriation for fiscal year 2013. Offsetting the savings from the canceled programs, which account for some $680 million in 2013 spending, are increases for activities including technology development, command and control, and procurement of ballistic missile targets, budget documents show.

As expected, the 2014 request contains no funding for the Medium Extended Air Defense System, a joint effort with Germany and Italy to develop an omnidirectional interceptor system. The MDA’s 2013 budget for the system, now in testing, is $380 million, but the president in 2011 announced his intention to discontinue U.S. participation at the end of this year.

Similarly, the 2014 budget proposal provides no funding for the Standard Missile-3 Block 2B interceptor, which was to be installed in Poland around 2020 to help defend Europe and to augment the U.S. territorial shield against threats originating from the Middle East. Obama announced in March that the Block 2B development program would be restructured to help cover the cost of beefing up U.S.-based defenses against the North Korean threat. Congress had long been reluctant to fund the Standard Missile-3 Block 2B program, providing just $61 million of a White House-proposed $224 million in 2013.

Conversely, the administration did not telegraph its plans to cancel the Precision Tracking Space System (PTSS), a proposed constellation of satellites designed to track missiles during the midcourse phase of flight. The MDA had plans to procure a pair of prototype satellites from the Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory of Laurel, Md., while a number of contractors were angling for what likely would have been a multibillion-dollar contract to build the operational system.

The cancellation of the missile tracking system caught some industry officials off guard, especially following recent on-orbit tests of a pair of demonstration satellites that indicated an operational constellation could significantly improve the effectiveness of ground-based interceptors. After some early resistance to fund the program, Congress appropriated $242 million in 2013.

“Long term fiscal sustainability of PTSS was determined to be unsupportable,” budget documents say.

Technology development accounts for what would be the most significant increase in the MDA’s budget for next year, documents show. Among the areas of focus are advanced computing systems, target-discrimination technology, sensors, kill vehicles and lasers, budget documents show.

Another program targeted for an increase next year is the Ground-based Midcourse Defense system, which currently features 26 interceptors deployed in Alaska and four in California. The interceptors are intended primarily to defeat the North Korean threat.

The primary thrust of Obama’s plan to bolster those defenses, announced by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel March 15, entails installing 14 more interceptors in Alaska by 2017, an effort expected to cost $1 billion.

“This commitment to strengthen homeland defense also requires a successful return of the Ground-based Midcourse Defense program to flight testing with a successful intercept,” the budget documents read. “This is our highest priority.”