Frustration with Failed Missile Defense Tests Reflected in Cuts

by

WASHINGTON — A bipartisan spending bill that funds the entire U.S. federal government for the remainder of fiscal year 2014 trims $123 million from U.S. President Barack Obama’s $1 billion request for the nation’s primary missile shield, reflecting growing impatience among lawmakers with failed intercepts that have plagued the program in recent years.

The Consolidated Appropriations Act for 2014 (H.R. 3547), signed into law Jan. 17, applies those funds instead to operations and maintenance accounts within the Missile Defense Agency.

Senate leaders have questioned whether the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system can realistically protect the nation from incoming ballistic missile attacks, and prominent Republicans in both the House and Senate have called for more testing of the system, which has failed in its last three intercept attempts.

The appropriation represents a slight increase from the 2013, post-sequester appropriation of $898 million. U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced in March 2013 that the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) would increase the number of interceptors at Fort Greely, Alaska. The interceptors are intended primarily to defeat the North Korean threat.

mda_budget_2014_1.20.14.jpg

A second line item in Congress’ MDA appropriation shrinks the president’s request for ballistic missile testing by $37 million, to $337 million. The bill does not a cite reason for the decrease.

At the same time, lawmakers specified that $20 million of the GMD budget be set aside for site evaluation and environmental impact studies for a proposed third interceptor site for the system.

Currently there are two GMD interceptor sites: Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., and Fort Greely. In September, the MDA announced it had identified five potential sites for a third interceptor facility, all of which are in the eastern half of the United States.

The bill also adds $55 million for enhanced target discrimination capability for missile defense systems. U.S. Navy Vice Adm. James Syring, director of the MDA, has said repeatedly that improving target discrimination technologies, long identified as a weakness in U.S. missile defenses, is among his top priorities.

Notably, the bill also aims to provide greater budget transparency and congressional control over ballistic missile technology accounts by separating a technology account into six distinct budget lines. The new accounts now include separate items for discrimination sensor technology, which received $30 million, and common kill vehicle technology, which received $70 million.