House Subcommittee Would Cut Missile Defense
BY RICHARD MULLEN
A House subcommittee approved, without fanfare, a mark-up for a $51.1 billion fiscal 2007 authorization bill for defense programs pertaining to ballistic missile defense and several related areas.
The strategic forces subcommittee of the the House Armed Services Committee (HASC), in so doing, recommended a budget total of $142 million less than the administration had requested, according to Rep. Terry Everett (R-Ala.), chairman of the subcommittee.
"The subcommittee is concerned with striking the right balance between technical risks and providing increased capabilities to the warfighter," Everett said. "Accordingly, [this subcommittee’s] mark shifts funding to programs with a more near-term capability for the warfighter and makes reductions in several programs that are less mature," he said.
Programs on the losing end of that funding shift include the Missile Defense Agency (MDA), which the subcommittee would fund at a level $183.5 million lower than the administration had requested. Among the bigger items on the hit list were the MDA’s Kinetic Energy Interceptor program, which would drop by $100 million, and the Multiple Kill Vehicle program, which would decline by $65 million.
On the other hand, the subcommittee added funds for means to "protect our forces and our allies today," said Rep. Silvestre Reyes of Texas, ranking Democrat on the subcommittee. Such items include upgrades for the Patriot missile, he said.
The subcommittee would approve adding $140 million in additional funding for what Everett termed "transformation of Patriot missile batteries."
In addition to missile defense, the subcommittee’s domain includes the military use of space, strategic weapon systems, and nuclear weapons, Everett said.
Regarding the military use of space, the subcommittee approved cutting two satellite programs: Transformational Satellite, or TSAT, and Space Radar.
The subcommittee’s mark recommended these cuts–$80 million for TSAT and $30 million for Space Radar–"because of concerns raised by the Government Accountability Office about the [Pentagon’s] ability to execute the proposed large funding increases," Reyes said.
In the strategic area, Everett said, the subcommittee’s mark will have the effect of prohibiting the Pentagon from retiring the U-2 spy plane, either in 2007 or "any subsequent year," without delivering assurances that the U-2’s retirement would not leave any gaps in the Pentagon’s spying capabilities.
Defense activities related to atomic energy, which fall under the domain of the Department of Energy, should get the full funding requested by the administration, Everett said.
"I am especially pleased with our decision to redirect funding from longer-range programs to near-term needs including fiscally-responsible, proven efforts such as upgrades for the Patriot missile system that protects our service members and our allies," said Rep. Silvestre Reyes of Texas, the ranking Democrat.
The altered funding priorities drew backing of several subcommittee members. "One prime example is the shift of long-term missile defense research and development funds into upgrades of the PAC-3 systems, one operational missile defense system we have," said Rep. John Spratt of South Carolina, a senior Democrat.
Programs with problems were given less or restricted authorization for funding, including the ground based missile defense (GMD) program, where $200 million was "fenced" off until the Department of Defense (DOD) certifies that GMD anti-missiles have scored two successive hits on target missiles.
The GMD has been plagued by various malfunctions in prior tests.
"We need to make sure the technology works before pouring more money into an experimental system," Spratt said. "The best way to demonstrate the technology is to conduct an operationally realistic intercept test. Restricting use of the money until the intercepts are demonstrated is a welcome change in this program."
"Eliminating a third Ground Based Missile Defense site and holding back funding until the system proves successful is an important cost-saving measure that will ensure the Missile Defense Agency doesn’t get ahead of itself," said Rep. Rick Larsen (D-Wash).
But for systems that work, authorizations were increased.
The subcommittee bill adds $140 million to upgrade the Patriot missile battalions from the PAC-2 to PAC-3 configurations.
"I am very pleased that this bill includes funding to upgrade PAC-2 missiles to a PAC-3 configuration," Reyes said. "This weapon system is crucial for supporting our troops overseas, and these upgrades will ensure that they have the advanced equipment they need to successfully complete their mission."
The panel also cut authorization for funding of Navy research the development of a conventional capacity for the traditionally nuclear Trident missile. The panel also would require a DOD report on its discussions of this issue with other nations.
Cuts also hit two other programs, the Multiple Kill Vehicle (MKV) and Kinetic Energy Interceptor (KEI), with the cuts aiming to press program leaders to more efficiently focus resources on near-term technology needs.
Looking ahead, the panel made plans in case DOD takes certain actions on its nuclear warhead program.
If DOD defers the W-80 warhead life extension program, the subcommittee directs the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) to redirect the resources from that program to the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) program and the effort to transform the nuclear complex.