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House-Senate Lawmakers Mull Only $85 Million Cut In European BMD

By | November 5, 2007

      House and Senate lawmakers are considering cutting only $85 million from a $310 million funding request by President Bush for the planned European Ground-based Midcourse missile Defense (GMD) program, a House source said.

      Published reports that the lawmakers intend to cut all $310 million and zero out the European GMD program are an incorrect interpretation of remarks by Rep. John Murtha (D- Pa.), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee defense subcommittee, the source said.

      It is correct that Murtha said funding for the European GMD program would be cut.

      But that doesn’t mean all the money will be cut. Rather, the lawmakers are considering removing $85 million out of the $310 million, the source said, which is the amount that the Senate proposed cutting from both segments of the GMD system. They are:

      • A high-capability radar to be installed in the Czech Republic.
      • Silos for 10 interceptors would be built in Poland.

      Those GMD components would be installed, however, only if those nations agree to host the facilities.

      Murtha indicated Congress needn’t provide full funding until the Czech and Polish governments give their assent.

      The Senate proposal to cut $85 million from both the Czech and Polish elements of the program would constitute far less of a problem for program managers than a House plan to cut $160 million — the entire amount for the Polish component.

      One major caveat here is that nothing at this point is final. The House-Senate conference committee — to work out differences between the House and Senate versions of the defense appropriations bill for the current fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2008 — won’t formally convene until sometime this week.

      Under legislative traditions, even if all members of a conference committee agree during deliberations to set a certain funding level for a program, no decision is final until the entire compromise bill emerges from the conference committee and goes to the House and Senate floors.

      Legislators also will have to work out differences on other ballistic missile defense (BMD) programs, such as the Airborne Laser (ABL).

      The Boeing Co. [BA] is the leading contractor on both the GMD program and ABL.

      If the final version of the conference bill contains no more than an $85 million cut, that would permit the program to move forward as soon as the Czech and Polish governments give their assent.

      Bush has stressed that there is no time for delay, because the European GMD system is needed, urgently, to counter a looming threat.

      Iran is developing steadily longer-range missiles, and it also is flouting global opinion by continuing to produce nuclear materials. (Please see separate stories in this issue.)

      Further, Iran is working on steadily longer-range missiles; it has conducted a multiple-missiles launch test; and Iran has launched a missile from a submerged submarine.

      Bush said repeatedly that the European GMD installation is required to protect European nations, U.S. troops there, and the U.S. homeland from Iranian missiles that might be tipped with nuclear or other weapons of mass destruction. Iran might pose a threat before 2015, so the time to install the GMD system in Europe is now, he argued.

      But he has encountered stiff opposition, not only from Russian leaders but also from some in Congress.

      Russian President Vladimir Putin and other Russian leaders alleged that the GMD installation would threaten Russian intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), threatening to annihilate, with military action, any GMD installation that may be built in Europe.

      But Bush and Pentagon leaders ridiculed that claim, saying 10 U.S. interceptors couldn’t threaten hundreds of Russian ICBMs and nuclear warheads. As well, the interceptors lack the speed to catch and kill Russian ICBMs.

      Yet the Russians at the same time have offered to participate in the GMD system by providing it with data from Russian radars, a proposal that Bush has termed "interesting." Some Pentagon leaders, however, say the Russian radars lack the capability to sense, track and provide data for a kill of any Iranian missiles headed toward Europe.

      Eventually, the European GMD system would cost about $3.5 billion.

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