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former IAEA Director-General

Missile Defense Study Delayed
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January/February 2017

By Kingston Reif

The Defense Department announced in mid-December that it would miss its planned year-end date to complete a final environmental statement designating a preferred location for a new ballistic missile interceptor site. 

Leah Garton, deputy director of public affairs at the Missile Defense Agency, told Arms Control Today in a Dec. 20 email that the agency “requires additional time to complete the study” and will release it “once we complete a thorough review.”

The In-Flight Interceptor Communications System data terminal at Fort Drum, New York, shown in a July 2016 photo, is an element in the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense system. The facility is designed to feed target updates to an interceptor as it seeks to destroy an incoming missile warhead. (Photo credit: U.S. Missile Defense Agency)The current system to protect the U.S. homeland against a limited long-range missile attack, known as the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system, consists of interceptor sites in Alaska and California. Pentagon officials have repeatedly stated that there is no military requirement for a third site and that the estimated $3-4 billion price tag would be better spent to upgrade the existing GMD system.

In the fiscal year 2013 National Defense Authorization Act, Congress required the Defense Department to conduct a study to evaluate at least three possible new long-range interceptor sites that could augment the GMD system, including at least two on the East Coast. 

The Defense Department announced last spring that it had completed a draft environmental impact statement of three possible locations: Fort Drum in New York, Camp Ravenna Joint Training Center in Ohio, and Fort Custer Training Center in Michigan. (See ACT, July/August 2016.) For each site, the draft study assessed the impact of factors such as hazardous materials and hazardous waste management, health and safety, socioeconomics, water quality, and environmental justice.

The fiscal year 2016 defense authorization bill ordered the Pentagon to designate a preferred location for a third site within a month of the completion of the draft environmental impact study. (See ACT, November 2015.) The department missed that deadline and does not plan to name a preferred location until it completes the final environmental impact statement. 

The delay comes as members of the Michigan, New York, and Ohio congressional delegations continue to make the case for their respective states to host the third site. Each delegation sent a letter last summer to MDA Director Vice Adm. James Syring urging consideration of their candidate’s location. A total of 55 senators and representatives from both political parties signed the letters.

Posted: January 11, 2017