Profile: U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.)
Chairman, Senate Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee
Missile defense is a top priority of Sen. Jeff Sessions, and he’s well positioned to support this activity.
That much seems clear from the Senate version of the 2007 defense authorization bill, which approves the full $9.3 billion request for U.S. Missile Defense Agency programs. These programs provide thousands of skilled jobs in and around Huntsville, Ala., where the U.S. Army’s Redstone Arsenal — home to Army Space and Missile Defense Command — is located.
Following markup of the bill by the full Armed Services Committee May 4, Sessions issued a press release taking credit for adding $200 million to the Pentagon’s $2.8 billion request for the national missile shield, known as the Ground Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) System, which is managed from Huntsville. The funding boost would come largely at the expense of the Kinetic Energy Interceptor (KEI), which is still early in development.
When it comes to military space, which also falls within his bailiwick, Sessions takes what might be described as a tough-love approach, often applying budgetary brakes to programs to keep them under control. “We need to do better about procurement — we cannot continue to see delays and cost overruns,” he says. “The taxpayers have every right to insist that these programs come in on budget.”
Sessions spoke recently with Space News staff writer Jeremy Singer.
The House Armed Services Committee cut the Pentagon’s funding request for studies of a European GMD site in its version of the defense authorization bill. Is that something you hope to overturn in conference?
Yes, that’s something we plan to fight for. It’s a critical issue for me and hopefully we can work with the House to be able to move forward with the European site, which is critical to our defense, and provides a far better opportunity to hit an Iran-launched missile than the Alaska site. You don’t think about it, but an Iran-launched missile would fly over Scandinavia.
Secondly, I think it can provide a layer of protection for our European allies.
Where in Europe might a GMD site go?
No decision has been made on that, and I think it is unwise to speculate.
Some might think a European site is premature until we have an agreement in place, but I don’t think so — I think it will help us be able to negotiate the best site when the Europeans know that we’re serious.
Your authorization bill cut $200 million of the Pentagon’s $406 million request for the KEI . Is this program unaffordable?
We made a choice. Our choice was let’s go on and deploy GMD. Let’s move forward with that, and let’s allow KEI to continue to mature its technology so that if we decide to go in that direction, we’ll have confidence that it can be done and stay within its budget.
KEI has great potential. I don’t think this reflects a rejection of KEI. It’s got tremendous capabilities and potential.
Sen. Wayne Allard (R-Colo.), your predecessor as chairman of the strategic forces subcommittee, wrote Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld recently to complain of a declining emphasis on space programs . Do you see such a trend ?
I haven’t read the letter. I’ll just say this: I have no doubt that if the author of the Rumsfeld Commission [report] hadn’t become secretary of defense, we wouldn’t be as far along as we are today. He came to the Department of Defense understanding space and having been chairman of that commission, and he’s managed to keep us on track while fighting a war against terrorism.
There have been many opportunities for us to really pull the plug on space and missile defense, and that has not occurred.
Do you approve of the U.S. Air Force’s new, more-conservative approach to space-system development?
I think so. Some of our problems have been caused by overreaching. We’ve gone with too many programs that have immature technology. When problems occur with that technology, a program can be stuck while one or two problems are solved, which causes expensive delays.
Your authorization bill made a significant cut to the Air Force’s request for Space Radar. What’s your take on the program?
I think that we’re not there yet. We can’t do everything at once. We have to choose which programs will be fielded first.
The Pentagon and intelligence community have yet to work out a cost-sharing agreement for the program. I think the intelligence community needs to be a contributor.
Should the Air Force and intelligence community split the cost of Space Radar evenly ?
I think it can serve both, but they need to hammer out the cost sharing between them.
The Air Force wants to start launching Space Radar satellites in 2015. Is that realistic?
I don’t know. I think it’s our responsibility in Congress to allow the Defense Department options to study it and do basic research and additional research as is warranted. At some point we’re going to have to ask ourselves “is it on track, and is it capable?” We’ll have to monitor it as we go.
You’ve advocated pressing ahead with space-based missile interceptors and anti-satellite weapons. Does the administration need to craft a new space policy covering the testing and deployment of such weapons?
I don’t know if we need a new policy, but I think we need to continue to do research.
It’s very critical for our defense that we be able to protect our satellites, and that our enemies not be able to use satellite capabilities to monitor our soldiers.
It would be unthinkable that we would allow an enemy to place at risk our soldiers through satellite observations. And our whole defense posture relies more heavily on satellite capabilities than ever before. It’s a huge issue.
There’s research going forward in a number of areas. Hopefully we can design non-kinetic ways to neutralize a potential enemy’s capabilities.
Would you take the option of using kinetic anti-satellite measures off the table completely?
No. In the exigencies of war you have to do whatever it takes.
No commander in chief should allow his soldiers to be unnecessarily endangered and not take action to protect them.
But there is some good potential in a number of programs short of kinetic action.
Do you need space-based weapons to negate enemy satellite capabilities, or can you do it from the ground?
I think we should be looking at all options. It’s a capability that we must have. Ultimately it will be driven by technology; what the facts show.
Do you approve of the Missile Defense Agency’s plan to seek money in 2008 for a space-based missile defense test bed ?
I encourage them to think aggressively and explore the potential, but to make sure we’re not relying on immature technologies.
The real question is how can we do a better job throughout the procurement of dealing with immature technologies at a reasonable cost and not having whole programs hanging out while one or two weaknesses are dealt with.
I think that Congress is going to have to get tougher on the Defense Department on those issues to make sure that we’re not going to have long-term cost overruns that could have been avoided.