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Hunter To Bush: Bolster Funding For SM-3, PAC-3 Missile Shields

By | October 16, 2006

      The House Armed Services Committee chairman asked President Bush to accelerate two major missile-shield programs, and to provide funding for that hastened pace.

      Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), the chairman, made his request after North Korea announced it conducted its first nuclear weapon test underground, in defiance of international nuclear non-proliferation rules.

      Hunter said this shows an urgent need for the United States to advance its SM-3, and perhaps the SM-2, missile protection systems, and the PAC-3 system as well.

      In a letter to Bush, Hunter said the North Korean announcement that it successfully conducted the test is disquieting, especially “when viewed in concert with North Korea’s July 4 missile launches.”

      Then, North Korea launched six missiles of at most moderate range, weapons of the Scud type, and one long-range Taepo Dong-2 missile. That long-range asset, however, failed just seconds after launch.

      Hunter takes cold comfort in that failure. He told Bush that “the United States must take immediate steps to develop and deploy systems that are capable of addressing the full range of North Korean missile-based threats to the United States, our deployed forces, and our allies.”

      The chairman said the first move should be to bolster sea-based ballistic missile defense systems, and form a missile shield in the seas around North Korea. Ship-based systems have scored repeated successes in tests.

      “First and foremost, we must accelerate the U.S. ability to rapidly field and deploy a sea-based picket capability to protect against future North Korean ballistic missile launches,” Hunter wrote.

      “In the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2007, the conferees added $100.0 million for Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense SM-3 interceptor procurement and Aegis system development.

      “That is a start, but we need to accelerate further the schedule for fielding Aegis ballistic missile defense capabilities, whether solely SM-3 interceptors or an appropriate combination of both SM-2 and SM-3 interceptors.”

      Hunter may wish to see funding for the expanded program found by shifting money among existing programs, rather than by increasing the top line on the missile defense budgets.

      “I recommend strongly that the executive branch submit to the Congress both a proposal that states what steps are necessary to accomplish such acceleration and a request to reprogram the necessary funds,” he wrote.

      Hunter also lauded another system.

      “North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile tests underscore the importance of the PATRIOT Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) deployment on the Korean peninsula,” Hunter wrote.

      “The United States must maintain an optimal air defense capability on the peninsula. I understand that United States Forces Korea has two full PAC-3 battalions — or 8 firing batteries — located in the Republic of Korea. I want to make certain that this presence is sufficient to protect the security interests of both the United States and our allies in the region.”

      South Korea and its key cities and assets are but a short missile flight from North Korea.

      Hunter also said he wishes to see improved U.S. intelligence-gathering capabilities, both in Northeast Asia near North Korea and elsewhere.

      U.S. military forces “must also enhance and, where appropriate, accelerate the deployment of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities focused on key regions, including Northeast Asia,” Hunter continued.

      “I urge you to review the current and planned deployment of such ISR capabilities and make the adjustments necessary to ensure that the U.S. Government has the best available information to prevent conflict and, if that proves impossible, to defend our homeland, our deployed forces, and our allies,” the chairman advised.

      The United States must be able to protect not only the homeland, but allied nations as well, and that includes developing missile defense shields, the legislator continued.

      “It is crucial that our government protect U.S. national security interests and honor the full range of U.S. deterrent and security commitments, including through the development and deployment of ISR and missile defense capabilities,” Hunter warned.

      “I will gladly serve as an advocate in the Congress for any reprogramming requests submitted by the executive branch to carry out these critical national security objectives.”

      Bush also received backing from Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and its emerging threats and capabilities subcommittee, which has jurisdiction over many Department of Defense research and development programs.

      “The apparent nuclear test conducted by North Korea is a defiant, confrontational act that threatens the stability of the region,” Collins said. “It demands an immediate and united response by the international community. It is telling that every single member of the United Nations Security Council has condemned North Korea’s actions. I am pleased that the Security Council is working toward a resolution that will, I hope, condemn North Korea’s actions and set forth comprehensive sanctions. North Korea must ultimately rejoin the six-party talks aimed at halting its nuclear program.”

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