Top Republicans are urging Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel to allocate additional funds and testing for a multi-billion dollar missile defense program following the high-profile failure of critical system technologies in a July 5 test.
Reps. Howard McKeon and Mike Rogers, respective chairmen of the House Armed Services Committee and the Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, were joined by their Senate counterparts James Inhofe and Jeff Sessions in a Friday letter condemning the Obama administration’s inadequate financing of the project.
“It is already clear that President Obama’s decision to drastically cut funding for the ground-based midcourse defense [GMD] program since he came to office and to ‘curtail additional GMD development,’ has drained funding available to conduct needed tests of this system,” the lawmakers wrote.
On July 5, an interceptor missile launched from California missed its target as it flew over the Pacific Ocean, forcing the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency to detonate both projectiles remotely.
The precise reason for the failure remains unknown, although some experts have speculated that a power loss prevented the separation of a kinetic “kill vehicle” from its thrusters as the two missiles hurtled toward each other at a combined speed of nearly 15,000 miles per hour.
The test cost $214 million and is the third intercept test failure in a row. The last time the system was successfully tested was in December 2008.
“We must continue to advance the national missile defense capability,” the Republican legislators wrote, citing the increased threat of long-range ballistic missile attacks from North Korea and Iran.
“In 2008, funding for GMD was just over $2 billion, whereas by 2012, GMD was reduced to just half that total and continues to decline over the next five years,” they continued. “Such funding cuts have touched every facet of the GMD program, including its maintenance.”
Some experts disagree with the lawmakers’ contention. “Pinning the test’s failure on a lack of funding is absurd,” Peter Singer, a missile defense expert at The Brookings Institution, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “Let’s be crystal clear: We have spent more on missile defense than we spent on the entire Apollo space program that took man to the moon!”
The United States has spent $170 billion on missile defense since President Ronald Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative program began in 1983. But much of that was spent on countering short and medium-range tactical missiles — not the long-range inter-continental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) capable of carrying large nuclear payloads.
Baker Spring, a missile defense scholar at The Heritage Foundation, estimates that the system which failed earlier this month only costs around $9 billion. He believes that the Obama administration’s cost-cutting measures were “a contributing factor” in the test’s failure.
“Basically, I think that the GMD program is in a cycle of inadequate funding to conduct an inadequate numbers of tests,” he told TheDC News Foundation.
“You arrive at a dynamic that says ‘We’re going to have fewer tests,’ so tests that are taking place are all make-or-break tests for the future of the program,” he continued. “The result is that the program gets bogged down. The people that are designing the tests are going to be more concerned about the success or failure of the intercept instead of whether learning is taking place.”
Despite the failure, Spring feels that the long-range missile defense program is ultimately worth the high price tag: “It’s key to count the value of what you’re defending,” he said, noting that the “infrastructure, buildings, factories, let alone the human costs” of a nuclear missile attack would be astronomical.
In addition to increasing the project’s budget, the letter asks that the Missile Defense Agency conduct “a new intercept test… as soon as practicable.”
The lawmakers also requested that the director of the program provide Congress with “a clear road map for the development and fielding of a next generation kill vehicle for the GMD system that will be required to stay ahead of the long-range ballistic missile threats to the United States.”
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