— Two
lawmakers on March 23 called for
and the
United States
to cooperate in missile defense and expressed hope that the U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA) is on the right track to addressing the testing and acquisition troubles that have plagued the organization.

Despite the opposing
and Russian positions on a proposed European missile defense site, the potential missile threat from
demands cooperation, U.S. Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), chairman of the Senate Armed Service committee, said at the 2009 Missile Defense Conference here.

“U.S.-Russian cooperation on missile defense against Iranian missiles, even if we were simply to begin serious discussion on the subject, would send a powerful signal to
,” Levin said. “… [It] could change the geopolitical dynamic of the region and reduce the emerging strength of
, which is a state supporter of terrorism and a threat to much of the
Middle East
and much of the Arab world.”

Levin said Russia’s previous offer to share early warning data from a radar site in Gabala, Azerbaijan, would be useful to the United States, and discussions should be resumed on a Moscow-based joint data exchange center that was previously agreed upon but got bogged down with tax and liability issues.

Speaking at the same conference, Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-Calif.), who chairs the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee, said both nations face a potential threat from ballistic missiles and should look for opportunities to work together. She emphasized, however, that
does not have a veto over the security of the
United States
and its allies.

Both Levin and Tauscher railed against what they said is a failure to instill discipline in missile defense acquisition and testing. Most missile defense programs are categorized as research and development programs, exempting them from the firm baselines for cost and schedule and the oversight processes of other Pentagon acquisition programs. Missile defense programs should be subject to the same rules as other defense programs, Levin and Tauscher said. Both supported the approach the MDA’s director, U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Patrick O’Reilly, is pursuing to overhaul the entire missile defense testing program and better understand the capabilities of the entire architecture.

A fundamental problem with missile defense programs has been the unwillingness on the part of Congress and the Pentagon to make tough decisions, Tauscher said.

“The Airborne Laser, which is eight years behind schedule and $4 billion over budget, is an excellent example,” she said. “It reminds me of the definition of insanity: you keep doing the wrong thing over and over and don’t learn from it.”

Meanwhile, a group of seven
representatives sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates March 23 urging robust funding for the Airborne Laser program in the face of reports that it is facing severe budget cuts or termination.

“The [Airborne Laser] is performing well and is scheduled to shoot down a boosting ballistic missile by the end of the year,” they wrote. “Should [it] be severely under-funded or cancelled, the promise of speed-of-light and extreme precision in the hands of the warfighter will disappear, as will the fragile industrial base that supports it.”

The letter’s signatories were Reps. Todd Tiahrt (R-Kan.); Norm Dicks (D-Wash.); Trent Franks (R-Ariz.); Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.); Todd Akin (R-Mo.); Buck McKeon (R-Calif.); and Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).