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Obering: Assails Cuts In KEI Authorization Measure

By | May 15, 2006

      Substantial cuts that congressional authorization panels are making in authorizations for the Kinetic Energy Interceptor (KEI) will delay the anti-ballistic-missile program and limit U.S. choices for defensive systems, Lt. Gen. Henry “Trey” Obering, director of the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) said.

      On the KEI systems by Northrop and Raytheon Co., a projectile moving at enormous speed crashes into an incoming enemy ballistic missile, obliterating it.

      The Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) cut about half the KEI authorization, to $206 million from $406 million. Meanwhile, the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) cut $100 million from the KEI program.

      Obering told lawmakers on the Senate Appropriations Committee defense subcommittee, and reporters who spoke with him later, that the SASC and HASC cuts would slow the KEI program, and mean the United States would have fewer options as to platforms to counter incoming enemy missiles.

      He drew a sympathetic reaction from two key lawmakers on the SAC: Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), the chairman, and Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) chairman of the SAC defense subcommittee.

      Obering later told defense reporters that the SASC move to cut the KEI program authorization would have a significant, damaging effect.

      He indicated he wishes to see those cuts reversed in an eventual House-Senate conference committee meeting on an authorization bill for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2007.

      The KEI program needs the full $386 million that President Bush requested for KEI, according to Lt. Gen. Larry Dodgen, commanding general of the Army Space and Missile Defense Command and of the Army Forces Strategic Command.

      “The program would need all of that” to remain viable, Dodgen indicated.

      The missile defense leaders received a generally warm welcome by lawmakers, contrasting with contentious hearings in some prior years where lawmakers demanded to know why ballistic-million defense systems failed, especially in the land-based system.

      Now, Cochran lauded what he sees as a “strong, workable missile defense system.”

      True, it is a complex system, Cochran conceded.

      And while he said that lawmakers must guard tax dollars and curb spending, he wishes to see the KEI and Airborne Laser (ABL) systems complete. ABL involves a steer-able high- powered laser mounted on a Boeing 747 with a customized nose.

      That laser can fire at an enemy missile as it rises from a silo or launch pad, frying systems in the weapon.

      Keeping anti-ballistic-missile programs fully alive would mean that the nation would have a choice of potential missile shield programs from which to choose when decisions points are reached in 2008, Obering said.

      “It would be premature to cut either one of those programs before those decision points” are reached, he said. Cutting programs now could come at “the expense of future capabilities,” he said, and in the bargain the cutting “prematurely restricts our options in the boost phase” kill programs, he said. Those cuts might set programs back for more than a year, he indicated.

      Stevens also was upbeat about MDA.

      “I’m personally pleased with everything I’ve heard about this” ballistic missile shield effort, said Stevens, who has ground-based defense programs in his state.

      He said the controversial decision to deploy elements of missile defense systems before they are mature, adding technology as it is perfected, “has proven to be a wise decision.”

      He added that he is particularly pleased with the openness, or “transparency,” of MDA programs.

      On a separate point, Obering said that using radar tracking data from ground-based systems might mean the U.S. ballistic missile defense forces would require fewer advanced radar ships,

      “If we can integrate land-based radar [command and control] with sea-based interceptors,” U.S. missiles that kill enemy missiles, “you cut down on the number of ships that you need to provide protection for a given defined defended area drastically,” Obering told the lawmakers.

      Ships such as the future CG(X) cruiser with its anti-ballistic missile capability would be expensive, costing billions of dollars. They might be made by General Dynamics Corp. unit Bath Iron Works shipbuilding and/or by Northrop Grumman Corp. unit Ship Systems.

      Some lawmakers have objected strongly to the cost of a sister ship, the future DD(X) destroyer (or DDG 1000), which the Navy estimates at $3 billion for the first ships, and $2.2 billion to $2.6 billion for later copies.

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