Republicans Blame Obama Funding Cuts for 3rd Failure of U.S. Missile Defense Test

By Patrick Goodenough | July 15, 2013 | 5:05 AM EDT

This file photo from the last successful test of U.S. missile defense capabilities shows, a ground-based interceptor missile lifts off from Vandenberg AFB in California on December 5, 2008, en route to intercept with and destroy a target missile launched in Alaska several minutes earlier. Since then there have been three failed tests of the system, the most recent on July 5, 2013. (Photo: Missile Defense Agency)

( – As the array of foreign missiles capable of reaching the United States grows, four Republican lawmakers are pressing Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel for assurances after a third consecutive failed test of “the only national missile defense system in place to protect the American people.”

In a letter responding to the unsuccessful test of the ground-based midcourse defense system (GMD), the four said the system “appears to have been put on ‘life support’ under the Obama Administration’s budget requests.”

The last successful GMD test took place in December 2008, when an interceptor missile launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. intercepted and destroyed a long-range ballistic missile target launched in Alaska minutes earlier.

Since then there have been three failed tests of the system, the most recent on July 5, when an interceptor missile launched from Vandenberg AFB failed to intercept a target launched from a test site in the Marshall Islands.

The Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency (MDA) said officials would carry out an extensive review to determine the reasons for the failure.

House Armed Services Committee chairman Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), strategic forces subcommittee chairman Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), Senate Armed Services Committee ranking member Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), and strategic forces subcommittee ranking member Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), noted that funding for the GMD system in 2008 was just over $2 billion, but that that amount had been halved by 2012 and continues to fall.

“Such funding cuts have touched every facet of the GMD program, including its maintenance.”

“While it may take some time to reach a final diagnosis of the cause of the July 5th test failure, it is already clear that President Obama’s decision to drastically cut funding for the GMD program since he came to office and to ‘curtail additional GMD development’ has drained funding available to conduct needed tests of this system,” they wrote.

McKeon, Rogers, Inhofe and Sessions asked Hagel and the MDA to ensure that the causes for failure of the test are resolved and that the system is tested again.

They also pressed for development and deployment of a next-generation interceptor to be made a top priority.

‘Range, lethality, and accuracy’

The unsuccessful test comes at a time when the intelligence community in a new report highlights the developing ballistic missile threat facing the U.S. and allies.

Updating a 2009 assessment, the report by the National Air and Space Intelligence Center says North Korea is continuing its development of the long-range Taepodong-2 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).

Although its test launches failed in 2006, 2009 and April 2012, the report notes that the North Koreans successfully used the rocket last December to place a satellite into orbit.

The report concludes that the Taepo Dong-2 “could reach the United States if developed as an ICBM.”

Iran, meanwhile, “continues to attempt to increase the range, lethality, and accuracy of its ballistic missile force,” says the report. It adds that Tehran is “developing the technical capability to produce an ICBM,” and reaffirms the intelligence community’s assessment that “Iran could develop and test an ICBM capable of reaching the United States by 2015.”

The report also examines other countries’ capabilities, saying China could within the next 15 years have “well over 100” ICBM nuclear warheads capable of reaching the U.S. The deployment of JL-2 (Giant Wave) submarine-launched ballistic missiles will enable China for the first time to “target portions of the United States from operating areas located near the Chinese coast.”

The GMD system involves ground-based interceptors based at the Vandenberg AFB and Fort Greely, Alaska, designed primarily to handle threats from North Korea.

The growing potential threat from Iran over the past decade prompted calls for a “third site” to provide more decision time, space and options for the military to respond to a missile attack.

Bush administration proposals to deploy a third GMD site in Poland – strongly opposed by Russia – were adjusted by the Obama administration in 2009, then modified again last March when Hagel announced longer-term plans for Poland were being canceled in favor of shorter-term, short-range options. An additional 14 GMD interceptors would be deployed in Alaska, he said.

Congress has mandated a study into the building of a third GMD site somewhere on the East Coast but the administration is believed to be leery.

In their letter to Hagel, McKeon, Rogers, Inhofe and Sessions raised the issue.

“Even now, amidst advances by North Korea and Iran to hold the United States at risk from long-range ballistic missile attacks, the Administration refuses to support the East Coast missile defense site and instead suggests other options may be able to deliver some improved GMD capability, yet those options aren’t even reflected in the MDA budget requests,” they wrote.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow

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