Congress Wants More Details on Missile Defense Work

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Congress Wants More Details on Missile Defense Work
By JEREMY SINGER
Space News Staff Writer
posted: 06 June 2005
12:18 pm ET

The House and Senate Armed Services committees have asked the Pentagon for a variety of reports on the Defense Department ‘s missile defense work, ranging from queries about how best to avoid further friendly fire accidents like the one that resulted in Patriot missiles shooting at — and in some cases hitting — allied planes in Iraq to questions about development problems with the next generation of early warning satellites.

The House of Representatives has passed May 25 its version of the 2006 Defense Authorization Act, while the Senate version is awaiting a vote on the Senate floor. Congressional staffers said that members of both authorization committees generally are supportive of the Pentagon’s missile defense work. However, questions remain, particularly about testing plans, the aides said.

In a report accompanying its version of the bill, the House Armed Services Committee directed the secretary of the U.S. Army to submit a report to Congress by Feb. 1 on the service’s effort to correct problems with the Patriot missile interceptors that led to friendly fire accidents in Iraq.

In March 2003, a Patriot missile destroyed a British Tornado aircraft, resulting in the death of two pilots. Two days later, a Patriot battery locked on to a U.S. F-16, but did not shoot the fighter aircraft down. One week later, a Patriot missile hit a U.S. Navy FA/18 Hornet, killing the pilot.

The report must cover testing results that verify fixes and funding identified to cover the cost of the changes to the Patriot system. In addition to the report due next year, the Army must submit updates to Capitol Hill on an annual basis until the fratricide issue has been ironed out.

The House also called on the secretary of defense to submit a report by Feb. 1 on improvements to the systems in aircraft that alert air defense batteries that they are friendly forces.

The House also noted that the U.S. Air Force is preparing a new cost estimate for its next generation of missile warning satellites, and directed the secretary of defense to review the results of this assessment and submit a report to the congressional defense and intelligence committees within 30 days of the completion of the cost review on the Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) High.

The cost of the SBIRS High program has risen steadily from about $2 billion when the program began to a figure that recently climbed past $10 billion.

In its report accompanying the bill, the House Armed Services Committee stated that despite its concern with the repeated “cost increases, schedule delays and technical problems” on the SBIRS High program, the committee remains supportive of the program. The first launch of a SBIRS High satellite is currently scheduled to take place in 2008.

That commitment, however, did come with a strong caveat: ” Should the program continue to exceed cost and schedule benchmarks set after the establishment of another new baseline for SBIRS and its associated cost estimates, the committee may be forced to find an alternative to the SBIRS program,” the House committee’s report stated.

The House bill also includes language directing the secretary of Defense to establish an executive agent to handle the purchase of systems that can defend the U.S. homeland from cruise missiles, unmanned aerial vehicles and other low-flying threats.

That official would coordinate work performed by Defense Department organizations such as the Missile Defense Agency, U.S. Strategic Command, and the Joint Theater Air and Missile Defense Organization to improve unity of effort and avoid duplication.

The House report directs the secretary of defense to submit a new strategy for dealing with cruise missiles and other low-flying threats no later than 180 days after the House and Senate work out differences between the bills and the president signs the final version of the 2006 Defense Authorization Act.

The reports with both versions of the authorization bill include language about the national missile defense system deployed at Ft. Greely in Alaska and Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

Both the House and Senate committees raised concern about the testing of these interceptors, which have been unable to take off in the first two tests of their operational configuration.

The House added $100 million to the Missile Defense Agency’s $2.3 billion request for the Ground Based Midcourse Defense System, which is being built by Boeing Co. of Chicago, to pay for an additional flight test in 2006, and also included $50 million to implement recommendations from a recent independent review team on the testing failures.

The House directed the Pentagon’s director of operational test and evaluation to include an assessment of all testing failures with the system in each of its annual reviews of Pentagon programs.

The Senate committee added $100 million to implement the findings of the review team, and directed the agency director to submit a report to Congress by Jan. 15 on how this money will be spent.