By Rep. Michael Turner
Special to Roll Call Many have drawn the lesson from North Korea’s recent missile test failure that all is well and there is no real threat to America, and that President Barack Obama’s proposed cuts to national missile defense should not be a concern. I believe this is incorrect and deeply naive.
It would be fundamentally irresponsible to continue drawing down our national missile defenses while states like North Korea continue to invest in developing the means to attack the American people.
North Korea has apparently recently showcased six road mobile missiles. These may be the new intercontinental ballistic missiles that military and civilian defense officials have been warning of since last May. According to public reports, this missile was built with Chinese assistance from a state-owned Chinese company. Such a missile could pose a direct threat to the United States, according to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and former Secretary Robert Gates, especially in the context of North Korea’s preparations for a third nuclear weapons test.
The problem is, of course, larger than North Korea — there are well-understood connections between the ballistic missile programs of North Korea and Iran, and North Korea’s improvements today may be Iran’s new military capabilities tomorrow.
Even without ballistic missile cooperation with North Korea, Iran is well on its way toward developing a nuclear weapons capability. The president appears to be bending over backward to offer concessions to Iran, such as civil nuclear cooperation, instead of using all necessary means to stop its nuclear ambitions.
It’s unacceptable that the administration has failed to counter these emerging threats and in fact is taking steps to lessen our defenses.
In his first budget submission to the Congress, Obama slashed $1.16 billion out of the missile defense budget in a single year. The fiscal 2013 budget plan for the next five years is $3.6 billion less than even Obama’s own five-year plan submitted last year and $2 billion less than the previous administration projected for fiscal 2013.
Of course, this is consistent with what candidate Obama said in the 2008 campaign — that he doesn’t “agree with a missile defense system.”
When the president has requested support for missile defense, it has been to support missile defense capabilities other than our own. According to Missile Defense Agency budget charts, the U.S. under his plan will be spending about $4 or $5 on regional missile defense for every $1 on national missile defense.
The hits keep coming with proposed cuts by the administration to the ground-based mid-course defense system. The funding request for this year is $600 million less than the last request from the previous administration. In addition, Obama has recommended to Congress that the U.S. shut down six homeland missile defense interceptor silos at Fort Greely, Alaska.
The Defense Department has been promising a “hedging strategy” that would lay out to Congress how it will respond to growing ballistic missile threats to the U.S. for almost three years. The need for a “hedging strategy” is itself an admission that the current plan doesn’t assume threats will continue to grow. Despite promises to the House Armed Services Committee as recently as a March 6 oversight hearing on the budget request for missile defense, there is no sign of this strategy. There are times when the silence is deafening.
The Strategic Forces Subcommittee, under my chairmanship, will not allow such negligence to stand. Therefore, my chairman’s mark will take certain urgent steps to begin to fix the damage done by Obama’s four budget requests. These steps will include:
— A significant plus-up in the budget authorization for the ground-based mid-course defense system, the nation’s only homeland defense capability. This plus-up will increase the refurbishments of our proven ground-based interceptors in Alaska and California while the evolved GBIs are further tested. The plus-up will also ensure that the Obama administration’s plan to shutter GBI silos in Alaska is rejected. We will also significantly increase testing of the GMD system, a policy that both parties have historically agreed on. Further, the bill will require the Missile Defense Agency to begin work on a modernized kill vehicle for the GMD system, so that we can continue to expand and enhance its capability into the future.
— Numerous studies have recommended the United States undertake the design, development and deployment of an East Coast missile defense site, and I agree. My bill will require the secretary of Defense to begin environmental impact work on such a site and to have it in place by 2015, and authorizes $100 million to begin that work.
— Members on both sides of the political aisle support regional missile defenses such as the European Phased Adaptive Approach. The difficulty, however, comes with the enormous price tag of the EPAA, which the administration offered free of charge to Europe in 2009 without knowing how much the system will cost the United States. Under the Budget Control Act that the president signed into law, the United States can simply no longer afford, if it ever could, to pay for Europe’s missile defense all by itself, especially not if it means neglecting the missile defense of the American people. The mark will direct the administration to seek financial support from our European allies who will be defended by the EPAA.
These steps will not fix all of the problems associated with four Obama budget requests that have shortchanged national missile defense. They are a step in dealing with the rising ballistic missile threats posed by North Korea, Iran, China and others.
Rep. Michael Turner (R-Ohio) is chairman of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces.