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Co-Director of Program on Science and Global Security, Princeton University
U.S. Names Possible Missile Defense Sites
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Tom Z. Collina

The Defense Department announced last month that it has identified five possible locations in the eastern United States for a new ballistic missile defense interceptor site, but said it still has no plans to actually build such a site.

In a Sept. 12 letter to members of Congress, U.S. Missile Defense Agency Director James D. Syring wrote that his agency is “conducting a study of possible additional locations to determine their suitability for a potential future interceptor deployment site.” The five candidate sites are Fort Drum in New York, Camp Ethan Allen Training Site in Vermont, SERE Training Area at Naval Air Station Portsmouth in Maine, Camp Ravenna Joint Training Center in Ohio, and Fort Custer Training Center in Michigan.

Madelyn Creedon, assistant secretary of defense for global strategic affairs, told Reuters on Sept. 12 that no decision had been made to build an additional site for missile interceptors and there was no money to do so in the Pentagon’s future budget plans. Because of the automatic spending cuts known as sequestration, “we get very worried about whether or not we’re even going to have enough money to do what we’ve decided to do,” she said, adding that an additional interceptor site would be “extraordinarily expensive.”

In a June 10 letter to Capitol Hill, Syring wrote, “There is no validated military requirement to deploy an East Coast missile defense site.” (See ACT, July/August 2013.)

Congressional Republicans have been pushing the Obama administration to build a missile defense site on the East Coast in addition to existing sites at Fort Greely in Alaska and Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Proponents of a new site say the United States needs better defenses against a possible missile attack from Iran. Opponents counter that Iran does not have long-range missiles capable of reaching the United States and, if it did, the West Coast sites could intercept them. Others argue that the West Coast system is ineffective and would be no more effective if fielded in an eastern state.

In the 2013 defense authorization law, Congress required the Defense Department to identify three possible new interceptor sites, including at least two on the East Coast. The department has a congressionally mandated deadline of Dec. 31 to decide which of the five announced sites to include in an environmental impact study expected to take 18 to 24 months. All of the sites are on federal land, operated by the Defense Department, the National Guard, or both.