The U.S. military is exploring alternatives to a planned
missile defense interceptor site in
Poland in case the government-to-government agreement necessary to install the hardware
cannot be worked out, according to a senior Pentagon official.


U.S. Air Force Gen. Henry “Trey” Obering, director of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA), said
he is confident that Poland will ultimately agree to host the proposed interceptor site. However, the United States is developing a
backup plan involving other countries
, he said during a May 30 interview.


Obering declined to specify which other
countries might play host to the interceptors
. While their
locations are not as ideal as Poland for shooting down
missiles launched from
Iran – the potential threat from which the European missile defense site is intended to address – they would still be effective, he said.


Riki Ellison, president and founder of the Arlington, Va.-based Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance, said
likely is under consideration as one option


But finding
another host nation and concluding the necessary
agreement probably would
be a lengthy process, Ellison said. Given that
, and failing an agreement with Poland, the Pentagon may opt to shift the 10 interceptors now planned for installation in Poland
to one of its two existing U.S. interceptor fields:
Fort Greely in Alaska or Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Having additional interceptors at those sites would improve missile defense by enabling more shots at
an incoming target, he said.

Obering noted that an agreement with the Czech Republic on hosting an X-band radar sensor for missile-defense tracking and targeting
is closer to fruition than the agreement with Poland. However, Obering expressed concern that language in the House version of the 2009 defense authorization bill
, which passed the House of Representatives
May 22, would hold up spending on both sites until the United States concludes the necessary agreements with the host countries


The Senate version of the bill, which was reported out of the Senate Armed Services Committee
May 12 and is awaiting a vote on the Senate floor, did not include the same provision. This means funding for the European site
will be among the differences that need to be reconciled this summer or fall when members of the House and Senate meet in conference later this year to finalize the legislation.


Even if the Pentagon is unable to conclude an agreement for a European interceptor site in the immediate future, the radar sensor planned for the Czech Republic still could
offer a significant boost to both U.S. and allied missile defense networks, Obering said.


As the MDA looks to improve its ability to knock down missiles in the future, Obering
also is hoping to take a closer look at the implications of using space-based interceptors.


Space-based interceptors have always been more controversial on Capitol Hill than ground-based defenses
the House and Senate armed services committees did not fund the Pentagon’s request for $10 million to begin work on a demonstration effort in their versions of the 2009 defense authorization legislation. However, the Senate Armed Services Committee included $5 million in its version of the bill for an independent study on the “feasibility and advisability” of developing space-based interceptors.


Obering said
he would like to explore
space-based interceptors
because they
could provide
coverage in areas of the world where new missile threats could emerge, but added that
he is “not a hardcore fanatic.” Studying the feasibility and policy implications of such a deployment would be a valuable first step so that the debate on the matter
can be “based on facts, not religious beliefs,” he said.


Other systems that could play a significant role in MDA’s future capabilities but face congressional hurdles
include the Multiple Kill Vehicle, which takes a shotgun approach to destroying decoys that are difficult to distinguish from incoming missile warheads.
The House reduced MDA’s $354.5 million request for the system, which is being developed
by Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Sunnyvale, Calif., by $100 million in its version of the 2009 defense authorization act, while the Senate Armed Services Committee trimmed the request by $50 million.


Obering noted that the MDA is often criticized by members of Congress who charge that the agency is not prepared to deal with decoys, and said he is particularly frustrated by cuts to programs like the Multiple Kill Vehicle that are intended to address that very issue.