Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Missile Defense Highlights of House Armed Services Committee Mark-Up of H.R. 5658

Last Wednesday (May 14), the House Armed Services Committee completed its mark-up of the FY 2009 National Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 5658). A summary of the bill can be found here and the full text of the bill can be found here. For a summary of the Senate Armed Services Committee’s mark-up, see here.

Under the leadership of Chairman Ike Skelton (D-MO), and Ranking Member Duncan Hunter (R-CA), the Committee authorized approximately $10.2 billion for ballistic missile defense, a reduction of $719 million from the administration’s request and an increase of $212 million over the current year.

Noting the Bush administration’s overemphasis on the threat from long-range missiles and underemphasis on the real threat from short and medium-range missiles, the Committee increased funds for near-term missile defense capabilities (including $1.2 billion, an increase of $75 million, for the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense system (Aegis), $939.9 million, an increase of $75 million, for the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defense system, and $1.5 billion for Army missile defense programs, including the Patriot system) and slashed funds from systems designed to address longer-term threats (including $378.6 million for the Airborne Laser (ABL) program, a reduction of $42.6 million, $286.8 million for the Kinetic Energy Interceptor (KEI), a reduction of $100 million, $254.4 million for the Multiple Kill Vehicle (MKV) program, a reduction of $100 million, and no funds for the proposed space test bed, a reduction of $10 million). The Committee also required that the Secretary of Defense contract with a Federally Funded Research and Development Center to conduct an independent assessment (to be completed within 90 days of the passage of H.R. 5658) examining the operational capabilities of ABL and KEI to counter short-, medium-, and intermediate-range ballistic missile threats in their boost phase.

Most dramatically, the Committee authorized $341.2 for the proposed long-range missile defense sites in Europe, a reduction of $370.8 million (including $232 million for research and development and $140 million for military construction) and an increase of $116 million over the current year. It also limited the availability of funds for the sites until the administration has certified the system’s effectiveness and the Polish and Czech parliaments have given their final approval of any deployment agreement negotiated with the United States. As Strategic Forces Subcommittee Chairwoman Ellen Tauscher (D-CA) put it, “we don’t believe the American people should be digging holes in Poland for a system that will eventually cost over $4 billion when we don’t have ratified and signed agreements with their government.”

The Committee’s action on the proposed European deployment was particularly significant in that it cut an additional $140 million from the Strategic Forces Subcommittee’s initial reduction of $232 million (recall that the Senate Armed Services Committee fully funded the administration’s request). Moreover, the condition that deployment and construction of the system cannot move forward until the Polish and Czech governments have given their approval will continue to give the Bush administration fits. The U.S.-Czech agreement has been delayed for the third month in a row and is now scheduled for sometime in June, while talks between the U.S. and Poland continue to flounder.

Not surprisingly, Skelton’s missile defense cuts did not sit well with the Republicans on the Committee. All told, three amendments were introduced in an attempt to restore cut funds. Strategic Forces Subcommittee Ranking Member Terry Everett (R-AL), offered an amendment to restore the funds that were cut from the European deployment, but it was defeated 34-24. Rep. Terry Franks (R-AZ), attempted to restore $100 million to the MKV program, but his amendment fell 34-25. Finally, Everett introduced a second amendment, which sought to authorize $5 million for a study on the costs and benefits of a space-based missile defense system. It failed 34-26.

All told, the Committee is to be commended for slashing and conditioning funds for a proposed deployment that, among other shortcomings, includes assets which have not been adequately tested, has yet to be agreed to by the host governments, is of dubious potential efficacy, and has exacerbated great-power relations with Russia

H.R. 5658 is scheduled to appear on the House floor May 21-22.

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