Lawmakers Prod Obama on U.S. Territorial Shield

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Several U.S. lawmakers, citing new but unspecified intelligence, urged Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to re-emphasize defending U.S. territory against long-range ballistic missile attacks.

In a Nov. 17 letter, House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee Chairman Rep. Michael R. Turner (R-Ohio) and several colleagues also said they were informed that President Barack Obama’s administration is ready to abandon development of the Standard Missile (SM)-3 Block 2B interceptor.

The missile, the latest of three planned upgrades to the ship-based SM-3, was marked for  cancellation by the Senate Appropriations Committee in its version of the 2012 defense spending bill. The MDA requested $123.5 million for the program.

Rick Lehner, a Missile Defense Agency (MDA) spokesman,  declined via email to comment on the letter or on the White House’s forthcoming 2013 budget request.

In their letter, the lawmakers said new intelligence indicates countries are developing long-range ballistic missiles that could potentially attack the United States. “We believe this new intelligence reiterates the need for the Administration to correct its priorities regarding missile defense, which should have, first and foremost, the missile defense of the homeland,” the letter said.

The lawmakers criticized the White House for scaling back deployment of long-range missile interceptors on U.S. territory and canceling plans to deploy similar interceptors in Europe. Obama’s plan for defending Europe relies on the shorter-range SM-3, although longer-range and land-based variants of that interceptor are in development.

The House Armed Services Committee has been pressing the Pentagon for a “hedging strategy” for homeland defense but has yet to receive a strategy, the letter said. The lawmakers asked the White House for a briefing on the hedging strategy by Dec. 31 and said funding to counter long-range missile threats be increased in the MDA’s 2013 budget request.