U.S. Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-Calif.)

Chairman, House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee


s the first Democrat to lead the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee, which was created in 2003, Rep. Ellen Tauscher has pushed the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency to place more emphasis on near-term capabilities.

Rather than pouring billions of dollars into futuristic capabilities such as the Airborne Laser, for example, the agency should increase the frequency and rigor of tests on systems now being deployed, such at the Ground-based Midcourse Defense and the Aegis sea-based systems, she says.

Tauscher also is skeptical about the Missile Defense Agency’s plan to deploy interceptor and radar installations in Poland and the Czech Republic, respectively, around 2011 or 2012. While saying the Iranian missile threat to Europe is real and should be addressed, she advocates a different approach involving all of NATO in the shield.

Generally speaking, Tauscher supports greater transparency into Missile Defense Agency activities and complains that they have been subjected to less oversight than other Pentagon programs.

In the realm of military space, Tauscher says there is a need for better space situational awareness, which refers to the ability to keep tabs on the orbital environment. The U.S. military agrees, but she says the Pentagon has not matched its rhetoric with action.

Tauscher spoke recently with Space News staff writer Jeremy Singer.

What is your take on the status of space acquisition within the U.S. Air Force – do you think they’ve turned the corner in terms of controlling the cost growth and schedule delays on their space programs?

I’m not sure they have turned the corner. I support the back-to-basics, more evolutionary approach they have taken to space acquisition. However, everyone always needs a sustained record after some problems. One good budget cycle doesn’t make the past go away. But I do have confidence that they do understand the importance of good cost estimating as they move forward.

Are you satisfied with the Air Force’s stewardship of unclassified U.S. military

space, or do you believe that a space corps or separate space service may be needed?

I don’t think there is a need for a space corps, or separate service, but I think the Air Force has room for improvement. They still have challenges in balancing the priorities in fielding current systems with next-generation systems, and balancing priorities between the black and white space communities.

Is the Air Force doing enough to protect its satellites?

Speaking generally about the Defense Department, and the Air Force in particular, I’m not happy with the way that the administration has focused resources on space situational awareness. I don’t think the administration has served the Defense Department or the American people well by not putting forth enough resources for space situational awareness.

I think unfortunately that the Iraq War and the administration’s decision to fund it through supplementals and not proper planning even after five years is such a resource drain that it has left us with huge, dangerous gaps in space situational awareness.

Should the Pentagon be developing anti-satellite weapons?

No. Weapons should not be on the radar right now. We need to really focus on space situational awareness.

Are you disappointed that the Air Force has not filled the vacancy at undersecretary since Ron Sega left in August?

Yes. I’m disappointed that the Air Force does not seem to see the value of having a dedicated senior official for space acquisition.

Air Force Secretary

Mike Wynne is enormously capable in this area, having previously served as the Pentagon’s undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, so we’re lucky right now to have someone with his capability, but that might not be the case in the future. It’s important to bring someone back in.

Should the Defense Department

once again combine the positions of Air Force undersecretary and National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) director under Scott Large, who was recently appointed as NRO director?

No. I think that Scott Large will have a lot of challenges at the NRO that will need his full attention.

Do you believe the Missile Defense Agency needs an interceptor site in Europe in

the timeframe that it talks about?

No. We need to engage the European governments and people on the current threat from Iran, which is short- and medium-range missiles, and not mix apples and oranges with the third interceptor site, which is intended to address long-range missiles. I don’t think that the administration has done a good job on this so far.

You need to look at the threat. Current unclassified intelligence says that Iran could have a long-range missile by 2015 that could reach the United States. However, Iran currently has over 600 short- and medium-range missiles that could be used against allies like Europe and Russia, as well as U.S. forces deployed in the Middle East. Dealing with that threat should be the priority, and I’m encouraging the administration, NATO

and our allies to address it.

But isn’t protecting Europe part of the rationale for deploying missile defenses there?

While the administration bills the

site as defending both the U.S. and its allies in Europe, it has told Congress that it cannot protect

southern Europe from Iranian short- and medium-range missiles.

In order to provide full protection of all of Europe, you need systems like the Ground-based Midcourse Defense to deal with the longer-range threats, and systems like Aegis

and the Theater High Altitude Area Defense

to deal with the short-and medium-range threat.

I would also note that the next generation of the Standard Missile-3

, scheduled to become available in the 2014 timeframe, will dramatically improve the capabilities of the Aegis

system against intermediate- and longer-range ballistic missiles.

Do you agree with critics who charge that the Ground Based Midcourse Defense system has not been tested under

realistic scenarios


It’s clear that it has not been tested enough. In recent years, it has had about one intercept test a year. That’s not sufficient.

The Government Accountability Office and [Pentagon] director of operational test and evaluation have both said that the Missile Defense Agency has not conducted enough flight-testing to validate its models.

For all the money invested, it has yet to demonstrate the simplest of things – a credible deterrence. That’s the minimum that you should expect

after spending about $80 billion. It hasn’t persuaded Iran, for example, that we can defeat whatever they put together.

There have been some recent improvements. Warfighters are becoming more involved in the testing, which is good. There will be another test in the springtime that will be the first to involve countermeasures. But they have slipped the last few test dates, and we need to demand more of them, considering the investment that we have made.

What are some improvements

you would like to see from the Missile Defense Agency?

They need to improve the target program. There have been recent failures where the targets did not function. The question should be how the interceptors work, not whether the targets work.

I would also like to see the Pentagon better integrate the Missile Defense Agency

into the overall Defense Department requirements process. The Missile Defense Agency for a long time has been off on its own, without real oversight from within the Pentagon.

The result has been that it has produced a Ground Based Midcourse Defense System that people think is either a political gimmick or doesn’t work at all, when there is some record of progress that we have to build on in order to achieve credible deterrence, which it has yet to do.

It’s important to really integrate the agency into the Pentagon’s requirements process in order to achieve oversight and accountability, as well as to ensure that the different services view the missile defense systems as arrows in their quiver, not just something that the Missile Defense Agency is doing, or that Strategic Command has.

Should the Missile Defense Agency develop space-based missile interceptors?

We don’t want to weaponize space. What’s really important is getting the ground-based system working. We need to walk before we can run here. It’s important that the Missile Defense Agency concentrate on what’s already on its plate.

How important is the Airborne Laser?

I don’t think it has enough of a record to substantiate the investment right now. The system has faced numerous cost increases and schedule delays, and the shoot-down demonstration has slipped several times. Let’s face it, there is a lot of technical risk here, and it’s important to make sure that we have our efforts focused on providing the warfighters with a real capability to meet real threats that confront the United States and its allies.