U.S. Senate Unlikely To Go Along with Third Interceptor Site

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WASHINGTON – The U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee would be more likely to fund an additional radar on the East Coast to guard against a missile attack from Iran rather than build a third ground-based interceptor site, two committee staff members said Dec. 15.

Speaking at a missile defense symposium sponsored by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Republican staffer Robert Soofer and Democratic staffer Richard Fieldhouse said while they expect House Republicans to suggest a third ground based-interceptor site in the coming year, a more affordable option, especially within the current budget constraints, would more likely be an additional radar near the East Coast.

The current U.S. territorial shield features interceptor fields in California and Alaska, and in March 2013 the Obama administration announced plans to beef up the latter site.

At the White House’s direction, the Missile Defense Agency also is studying options for a third site in the eastern half of the United States, but the Republican-led House would like to see a new field built sooner rather than later.

Navy Vice Adm. James Syring. Credit: Space Missile Defense Symposium
Navy Vice Adm. James Syring. Credit: Space Missile Defense Symposium

While U.S. Navy Vice Adm. James Syring, the MDA’s director, has said funding for the third site is not needed immediately, the House has provided money for that activity in the past.

Currently, the MDA has announced it is considering four sites: Fort Drum, New York; Naval Air Station Portsmouth SERE Training Area, Maine; Camp Ravenna Joint Training Center, Ohio; and Fort Custer Training Center, Michigan. Those studies are expected to take about two years to complete, Syring said.

But Soofer and Fieldhouse said they believe Senators may decide it would be more cost effective to invest in discrimination capabilities on the East Coast or moving a Sea-based X-band radar to the Atlantic Ocean to track incoming missiles rather than build a new field.

The staffers pointed to a narrow window for negotiating missile defense issues because the need for capabilities provides a minimum for what Congress must provide, but the budget constraint, provides little room to add more funding.

“I don’t think the money is there,” Soofer said of the third site.

Fieldhouse added that improved sensor discrimination capabilities likely would rank as a higher priority to committee members.

Meanwhile, Syring said during a question-and-answer session at the event that the agency is still considering how it will acquire a redesigned kill vehicle that tops the ground-based interceptor.

Syring has said a redesigned kill vehicle, known as the RKV, is one of his top three priorities. One option, he said, would be a full competition, which would likely include Raytheon, Boeing and Lockheed Martin. The other possibility would be a government-run program that would pick-and-choose the best attributes from several proposals.

The MDA’s interest in a redesigned kill vehicle has grown in the wake of a string of intercept test failures involving the Ground-based Midcourse Defense system in recent years.

Syring also said he expects to be under contract with a company to develop the long-range discrimination radar, another of his priorities, by the end of 2015.

The third priority, improved discrimination capabilities, will be handled incrementally by current contracts. That work, Syring said, will include improvements to the agency’s command and control, fire control, weapons control and software and database work.