Money for Nothing

June 5, 2013
Laura Grego
Former Senior Scientist

The House Armed Services Committee (HASC) is marking up the Defense Authorization bill today.  The Chair of the Committee, Buck McKeon (R-CA), released his version on Monday.

A couple of notable missile defense items:

14 new Ground-Based Interceptors

The bill adds $107 million for the advanced procurement of 14 ground-based interceptors. In April, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel proposed buying these interceptors by 2017, but on the condition that the U.S. “fly before we buy,” requiring that “we have the complete confidence that we will need.”

Since the Missile Defense Agency has not yet conducted its tests to determine whether the new CE-II kill vehicle works properly—much less tested the system in an operationally realistic way—this is premature. Actually, considering the National Academy of Sciences recommends completely redesigning the Ground-based Midcourse System, with new interceptors, sensors and concept of operations, premature is probably too polite; wasteful is more accurate.

East Coast Missile Defense Site

This HASC bill also adds what appears to be $140.4 million in unrequested funding for the deployment of an east coast missile defense site. This proposal is not surprising, but the amount seems to be less than earlier proposals from the HASC. In March, Chair McKeon and 18 other Republicans sent a letter to Secretary Hagel, urging him to request “not less than $250 million” to get a new site moving along. As that effort didn’t persuade the MDA to ask for it, in April Rep. Michael Turner (R-IN) and 15 Republican members of HASC wrote a letter to the Chair of the House Appropriations Committee, again asking for the $250 million, promising that they would take similar action in the Authorization committee.

The initial release of the House Defense Appropriations Bill does not seem to have any money for the east coast site. However, a recent press report states the appropriators are prepared to spend some money—$70.2 million—or half of what the Authorizers want.

Whether it is $140 million or $70 million, the Missile Defense Agency didn’t ask for any of this money and can’t use it. In the May 8 HASC hearing on missile defense, Representative Garamendi (D-CA) directly asked the Director of the MDA, Adm. James Syring, whether he could use additional money for an east coast site:

REP. GARAMENDI:  Would an additional $250 million in the 2014 NDAA be of use to you in the process that you have under way?

ADM. SYRING:  Not at this time, sir.

MDA is undertaking a study of east coast sites, with the results due by the end of the year.   If a site is chosen from the study, according to Adm. Syring it would take another 18to 24 months for an environmental impact study to be done before any construction began. But MDA has not even committed to building a new site, only studying options.

That is not good enough for missile defense proponents. The Fact Sheet on HASC Authorization markup suggests that markup will include efforts to impose a mandate on the deployment of an east coast site. Rep. Turner, who led the charge for the east coast study last year, will reportedly offer an amendment mandating deployment by 2018.

Funding an east coast site is premature, not only because the siting studies haven’t been done but because it doesn’t add any defensive capability. Supporters of the east coast site argue that it would provide more “battlespace”—essentially additional time to see if the early attempts to intercept incoming missiles were successful and to launch additional interceptors if they weren’t: a “shoot-assess-shoot” strategy. But this strategy requires a robust ability to identify the target among decoys; if the defense doesn’t know which object to shoot at, this strategy doesn’t help.

The ability to discriminate between actual warheads and countermeasures does not exist despite decades of research, according to the National Academies of Science, and without it this new site would provide no additional defense capability.

Rep. Garamendi today will offer a counter-amendment that would take the $140.4 million and use it for National Guard and Reserve equipment instead.  It would be a much better use of the funds.