Inouye seeks missile defense project

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) is trying to bypass defense authorizers in order to fund a missile defense project in his state.

Inouye wants to use $68.5 million from last year’s missile defense budget for the construction of an Aegis Ashore test facility. He wants to ensure the money is available in the bill funding military construction projects for fiscal 2010, which is under Senate consideration this week.

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Inouye in a floor speech Monday admitted that he offered the amendment with some “reservation” because it circumvents the “normal order of business” in the Senate.

The effort is likely to create tensions with Senate defense authorizers who by law have to give the green light to all military construction projects.

Inouye’s pending amendment would self-authorize and fund the project at the Pacific Missile Range on Kauai Island. Sen. Tim Johnson (D-S.D.), the chairman of the Appropriations Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies subcommittee, and Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), the ranking member of the Appropriations Committee, co-sponsored Inouye’s amendment.

Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), the top Republican defense authorizer, introduced an amendment that would require the project to receive formal approval in a future defense authorization bill. The amendment leaves the appropriation of the funds intact.

Inouye’s position is bolstered by the growing threat of missile attacks on his state, and he has the backing of the Missile Defense Agency (MDA). Lt. Gen. Patrick O’Reilly, the agency’s director, wrote to Sens. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) on Oct. 7 asking them to authorize the funding.

The letter arrived after the House and Senate finished conference negotiations on the 2010 defense authorization bill.

The agency is eyeing funds that initially were slated for missile defense projects in Poland and the Czech Republic championed by the Bush administration — a plan that the Obama administration has recently overhauled.

Inouye stressed that the Obama administration announced its new European missile defense strategy on Sept. 17 after the Senate and House started conference negotiations in the 2010 defense authorization bill. He said the $68.5 million would not be additional money, but rather funds already appropriated in fiscal 2009.

Under the new missile plan, the United States would initially deploy ships with the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System, which launches the Standard Missile-3 or SM-3 interceptor, to help defend European allies and U.S. forces against threats from Iran and other countries. Lockheed Martin builds the Aegis system and Raytheon builds the SM-3 interceptor.

The Pentagon also plans to fund the development of a ground-based version of the SM-3 and the Aegis system. The Aegis Ashore facility in Hawaii would test those systems.

“The Aegis Ashore test facility is essential if we are to implement the president’s new phased adaptive approach in time to counter the growing ballistic missile threat,” O’Reilly wrote to the two defense authorizers.

O’Reilly called the establishment of the Aegis Ashore facility in Hawaii a “priority.” The test facility could also provide an operational ballistic missile defense capability when needed, O’Reilly argued. The test launcher could provide continuous protection for the region, he added.

Japanese intelligence officials have warned that North Korea could launch a long-range ballistic missile toward the Hawaiian islands, which are roughly 4,500 miles away, but U.S. intelligence analysts do not believe that North Korea has the ability to hit Hawaii.

Nonetheless, the Pentagon beefed up Hawaii’s defenses so that it can shoot down any potential incoming missile in midair. North Korea conducted two nuclear tests earlier this year.

The MDA director made the case that the Pacific Missile Range has a strategic location and “multidimensional testing capabilities.” The MDA wants to see the Hawaii test facility finished by fiscal 2012 to support the first flight test of the SM-3 interceptor. For that to happen, O’Reilly stressed that funding needs to be available in fiscal 2010.

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Inouye in his floor speech also made the case for the Pacific Missile Range facility. He said that it is the world’s largest missile testing and training range, which has an ideal year-round climate and encroachment-free environment.

“It is the only range in the world where submarines, surface ships, aircraft and space vehicles can operate and be tracked simultaneously,” Inouye said.

“For these reasons, the Missile Defense Agency believe that the [range] is the ideal location to support Aegis ashore testing.”