19 Mar 15. The Oct. 1 return to sequestration-level funding now required by budget law would significantly lower an already austere budget for missile defense, making the nation less secure, the principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy told Congress today.
Brian P. McKeon testified before the House Armed Services Committee on the fiscal year 2016 missile defense budget, joined by Navy Adm. Bill Gortney, commander of U.S. Northern Command and North American Aerospace Defense Command; Navy Vice Adm. James Syring, director of the Missile Defense Agency; and Army Lt. Gen. David L. Mann, commander of the Joint Functional Component Command for Integrated Missile Defense.
President Barack Obama’s budget requests $9.6 billion for missile defense in fiscal year 2016, McKeon said, $8.1 billion of which is for the Missile Defense Agency to develop and deploy missile defense capabilities to protect the homeland and strengthen regional missile defenses.
“Sequestration levels would be significantly lower, and as [Defense Secretary Ash Carter] has said, would make the nation less secure,” McKeon told the House panel.
Even without sequestration, he added, austere times translate to not having enough money to fund every desirable program, and officials must prioritize investments accordingly.
Ballistic Missile Threats
McKeon detailed some of the ballistic missile threats and trends, including defending the United States against limited long-range ballistic missile attacks, strengthening defense against regional missile threats, fostering defense cooperation with partners, and examining how to advance missile defense technology base in a cost-effective manner.
“The U.S. homeland is currently protected against potential [intercontinental ballistic missile] attacks from states like North Korea and Iran,” he said. To ensure the nation stays ahead of the threat, he added, officials continue to strengthen homeland defense posture and invest in technologies to better enable addressing emerging threats in the next decade.
“This requires continued improvement to the Ground-based Midcourse Defense System,” McKeon said, “including enhanced performance of the ground-based interceptors and deployment of new sensors.” The program remains on track, he said, to deploy 14 additional interceptors in Alaska by the end of 2017.
“These interceptors,” McKeon said, “along with the 30 that are currently deployed, will provide protection against both North Korean and Iranian ICBM threats as they emerge and evolve. We’ve also deployed a second forward-based missile defense radar to Japan, which is operating today thanks to the hard work of MDA and the Japanese government. This radar strengthens both our homeland and regional defenses.”
Commitment to Modernization
McKeon said this year’s budget request also reflects the Defense Department’s commitment to modernizing the GMD system.
“It will move us toward a more reliable and effective defense of the United States,” he said. “It includes funding for the development of a new radar that, when deployed in Alaska, will provide persistent sensor coverage and improve discrimination capabilities against North Korea.”
“It also continues funding for the redesign of the kill vehicle for the [ground-based interceptors],” McKeon said. “As directed by the Congress, the MDA is also conducting environmental impact studies at four sites in the eastern part of the United States that could host an additional GBI missile field.”
These studies will be completed next year, he said, noting the cost of building an additional missile defense site in the United States is very high.
“Given that the ICBM threat from Iran has not yet emerged,” McKeon said, “and the need to fix the current GBI kill vehicles, the highest priority is for the protection of the homeland — our improving reliability and effectiveness of the GBI and improving the GMD sensor architecture.”
McKeon said the current Ground-based Midcourse Defense System provides coverage of the entire United States from potential North Korean and Iranian ICBMs, and no decision has yet been made to deploy an additional field in the United States.
Sequestration Poses Most Dangerous Threat
During his testimony, Gortney said that as he assesses threats to the homeland, ballistic missile defense sits in the middle of it as a critical mission set.
“As I look as the threats the most likely and the most dangerous [that are] getting ready to confront us — I think it’s sequestration and the impacts on my ability across all of my mission sets, but particularly … to defend the homeland,” the admiral said
Sequestration is the quickest way to hollow out a force, he added, noting that when the cuts hit the services, leaders have to take the funding shortfall out of readiness.
This will delay capability, Gortney said, using the Missile Defense Agency as an example of the impact on readiness.
Syring, the Missile Defense Agency director, doesn’t have a readiness account that he can go to, Gortney said.
“He has to go into the New Start program, which is going to delay the long-range discriminating radar — the improved kill vehicle that we need to outpace this proliferating threat,” he said.
(Follow Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone Marshall on Twitter: @MarshallDoDNews)