House Panel Rips $764 Million, 8.6 Percent, From Already-Cut MDA Budget

By | May 7, 2007 | Uncategorized

ABL Loses $400 Million, Euro Site $160 Million; But Rescue In Works

The House Armed Services Committee (HASC) strategic forces subcommittee cut $764 million, or 8.6 percent, from the total $8.9 billion budget that President Bush requested for the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) in the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2008.

That request itself represented a $500 million decrease from actual funding in the current fiscal 2007.

But a move already is afoot to reverse those cuts and prevent MDA programs from being savaged.

Most of the cuts, a combined $560 million, come out of funding requests for just two programs led by The Boeing Co. [BA].

One cut slashes $400 million out of the Airborne Laser (ABL) program, or roughly 80 percent of the total $500 million-plus budget request. Here, Boeing provides a highly modified 747 aircraft as the platform, while Northrop Grumman Corp. [NOC] supplies the laser and Lockheed Martin Corp. [LMT] provides the beam control/fire control unit.

And the subcommittee plan also would remove $160 million (51.6 percent) of the $310 million total request toward installing a controversial third ground-based ballistic missile defense (GMD) site in Europe, to protect nations and U.S. forces there from missiles launched by Iran or other Middle Eastern countries. That $160 million cut removes the money to build interceptor silos in Poland, while leaving intact funds for a radar installation in the Czech Republic.

There also was an array of winners and losers among other missile defense and space programs. (Please see details below.)

While the European GMD program still is in initial phases, such as negotiations with the Czech Republic for the radar site and Poland for the silos site, the ABL program is well along in development, with years of technology development and testing already completed.

Lt. Gen. Henry “Trey” Obering III, the MDA director, just recently remarked on the strides that the ABL program has made in testing various lasers in the system, saying he is looking forward to a planned 2009 test of ABL actually shooting down a missile in its initial “boost” phase of flight. He also warned that any cut in missile defense funding, even if it is just for the one year of fiscal 2008, would delay for years the time when the American homeland would be protected from enemy attacks. (Please see Space & Missile Defense Report, Monday, April 30, 2007, page 1.)

For its part, Boeing responded to the subcommittee action with puzzlement, given the solid progress of the program.

“The Airborne Laser program, the Missile Defense Agency’s primary solution for a boost-phase intercept capability, has made tremendous progress over the past three years, including completing ground tests of the high-energy laser, fully integrating the beam control/fire control system inside the ABL aircraft, and firing the tracking laser in flight at an airborne target,” Boeing noted in a statement. Further, “The program is poised for the first intercept of a boosting ballistic missile in 2009.”

Unlike most other missile defense programs, ABL would use a high-powered laser to demolish enemy missiles shortly after they rise from a launch pad or silo, before they can spew forth multiple warheads or confusing chaff. It also would be able to fire a steady laser stream at an enemy missile, while other missile defense programs depend on a one- chance-only system of using a U.S. missile to slam into the incoming enemy weapon.

MDA has stressed that time is of the essence here in developing a multi-layered ballistic missile defense (BMD) shield, as both North Korea and Iran develop ever-greater missile capabilities and nuclear programs. North Korea already has nuclear weapons and is testing a long-range missile thought capable of striking the United States, and Iran is producing nuclear materials and is well along in developing steadily longer-range missiles.

A key question now is whether the HASC subcommittee’s deep cuts to the ABL and European third site programs will remain in the total Department of Defense budget as it winds its way through the legislative maze in Congress.

The full HASC will vote Wednesday on the total defense authorization bill for fiscal 2008, including the section affecting missile defense that was written by the strategic forces subcommittee. The subcommittee approved the mark without amendments on a unanimous 11-0 recorded vote.

Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-Calif.), who chairs the subcommittee, said she and other lawmakers “want to provide a defensive missile shield,” but wish to put money into BMD programs that already have been developed and tested. She called for “redirecting funding from investment in less mature, high-risk” BMD programs.

But the hefty cuts didn’t come without protest.

For example, Rep. Terry Everett of Alabama, the subcommittee ranking Republican, expressed concerns at the deep MDA cuts.

True, the European site discussions with the Czech Republic and Poland aren’t complete, he noted. But in light of “intelligence assessments that Iran could possess longer-range missiles by 2015, it is important that our defenses remain a step ahead of the threat,” Everett warned.

He said he would hope that Tauscher “would be open to supporting [European BMD] site preparation activities, should the negotiations with these countries produce results.”

More broadly, Everett voiced deep dissatisfaction with the sweeping BMD funding cuts, though he added that he understands Tauscher’s hand was forced in proposing the cuts by federal budget rules and decisions made by higher-ranking lawmakers.

“Now is not the time to further reduce funding, or slow down the development and fielding of those missile defense elements that are critical to our nation’s defense and the protection of our deployed forces and allies,” Everett cautioned.

He told her that “I remain concerned about the reduction to the overall topline level of the strategic forces” authorization bill, “and will seek to address this in the full committee next week.” In other words, expect to see amendments restoring the cut funds.

Rep. Franks Rescue Plan

A much stronger objection was voiced by Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.).

He vowed to fight for restoring funds that the subcommittee axed.

Amendments to the authorizing legislation could be offered in the full HASC mark-up session Wednesday. After that, the full House would have to approve the cuts. Then Senate committee and floor action would occur that might not endorse the proposed cuts, and then there would be a conference committee to resolve differences between the House and Senate versions of the fiscal 2008 defense authorization bill.

As well, there is a question as to whether the appropriating committees that actually supply money to the armed forces, the House and Senate appropriations committees, will be bound to endorse the cuts.

While he didn’t specifically mention what will be in amendments he will offer, Franks specifically cited the ABL and European BMD programs, in remarks he made at a breakfast Thursday morning before the National Defense University Foundation and the National Defense Industrial Association at the Capitol Hill Club.

As well, during the HASC subcommittee session a day earlier, Franks urged lawmakers to look at the risks of funding BMD programs, versus the risks of not funding them.

If Congress funds a BMD program and later discovers it isn’t needed, or that would be needed only at some distant time, that would be one thing. But what if an enemy fires a missile with a weapon of mass destruction at the United States, and Congress didn’t provide the funds for a BMD system to kill that incoming threat? he asked.

Lawmakers can’t afford to assume that “an attack won’t come,” he said. Legislators “must not abrogate our responsibility to the United States,” he said.

At the Capitol Hill Club speech, Franks said the $400 million cut in the ABL budget would “destroy the program.” If ABL isn’t developed and fielded, he asked, “What is our boost-phase program?”

One would hope that another BMD system would succeed in destroying the incoming missile, Franks said, “but what if it doesn’t? We should have some redundancy” to ensure an incoming missile is destroyed before reaching its target.

Franks predicted the United States at some point will be confronted with an incoming enemy missile, perhaps tipped with a nuclear weapon, “whether it’s a Scud or a Shahab from Iran.”

Given all of this, he said, “we’re going to have amendments,” beginning with the full HASC meeting Wednesday, and then if the amendments aren’t adopted in the full committee, “do the same thing on the [House] floor.”

Franks decried what he termed “a kind of bias against missile defense” by some lawmakers, “a political bias … constant bias.”

On the one hand, he said he doesn’t question the sincerity of those officials, adding that he didn’t wish to “impugn the motivations” of lawmakers who decided to slash ABL and the European BMD plans, and other programs. However, he said, “I do question the [their] judgment.”

Under congressional rules, any Franks amendment to restore BMD funds that the subcommittee cut would have to be neutralized by cuts in other programs, in “offsets,” under a paygo rule.

Asked whether that could be accomplished in part by eliminating spending increases that the subcommittee provided to other programs such as the Aegis BMD system, Franks hinted that his amendment might do just that.

He indicated that there may be a question as to whether those extra funds for some areas such as the Aegis missile defense program could even be spent, or whether in fact such funds might lie unused in fiscal 2008.

However, he declined to discuss amendment details, except to say he would comply with the paygo rule.

His amendments would affect a total $51.4 billion section of the total defense authorization bill funding Pentagon programs in fiscal 2008, a total that includes $9.5 billion for various ballistic missile defense programs and $9.3 billion for military space programs. That $51.4 billion is a net $1.3 billion less than Bush requested.

The measure also includes 38 items that lawmakers wanted to have slipped into the bill at a total cost of $654.2 million, out of 133 requests by legislators totaling a bit more than $1.7 billion.

Tauscher said the total bill increases funds authorizations for space capabilities that deliver near term benefits to warfighters and improve space situational awareness and survivability. “These actions are particularly important in light of the recent Chinese” test in which China fired a ground-based missile to demolish one of its aging weather satellites, she noted. China also “painted” a U.S. military satellite with a ground-based laser.

The subcommittee measure also would order the Department of Defense (DOD) and Director of National Intelligence to develop a space protection strategy, and would bar DOD from eliminating the space-based Nuclear Detection System from future national security satellite architectures.

As well, the subcommittee authorization plan “fully funds the Army’s missile defense budget request for the Patriot PAC-3 missile, including funds for the Patriot ‘Pure Fleet’ initiative,” she said.

Other Cuts

The subcommittee also slashed funding for several other programs:

  • $85 million was taken from the Space Tracking and Surveillance System program.

  • $80 million was cut from the Multiple Kill Vehicle.

  • $10 million was removed from the proposed Space Test Bed.

  • $200 million from the Alternate Infrared Satellite System.

  • $150 million from the Global Positioning Systems (GPS) III program.

  • $80 million from High Integrity GPS.

  • $45.5 million from the Reliable Replacement Warhead program to develop new nuclear weapons.

  • There also is an unspecified change to the program to develop a conventional-weapon ballistic missile to be fired from Navy submarines. The subcommittee measure expresses concerns that some nations might misinterpret the firing of a conventional missile from a sub as being the launch of a nuclear-tipped missile.

Funding Increases

The measure also contains some programs where authorizations are increased over requested amounts:

  • $36 million for the Aegis Standard Missile-3 interceptor production. (Lockheed makes the Aegis weapon control and guidance system, while Raytheon Co. [RTN] makes the SM-3.)

  • $20 million for Aegis facility enhancements.

  • $10 million for Aegis signal processor upgrades.

  • $12 million for additional PAC-3 missiles by Lockheed.

  • $100 million to support future procurement of a fourth Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) satellite.

  • $40 million to aid future procurement of GPS II-F satellites 13 through 15.

  • $100 million to support future procurement of the fourth Space Based Infrared Satellite System (SBIRS) satellite.

  • $63 million for modernized GPS user equipment.

  • $30 million for operationally responsive space capabilities.

  • $130 million for space situational awareness and space control capabilities. Some military leaders have said in an era of anti-satellite weapons that might attack U.S. and allied military and commercial space assets, it is crucial to have situational awareness to signal that an attack is underway.

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