Protect homeland missile defense from budget cuts

At risk for cuts are must-have capabilities like our homeland missile defense system, known as the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense system. Cutting this program wouldn’t save much money (it represents less than 1 percent of federal spending) but would make us vulnerable to any madman with an intercontinental ballistic missile. And intelligence forecasts that Iran and North Korea are on track to develop nuclear missiles capable of hitting U.S. cities in just a few years. Both parties agree that we need proven missile defenses to protect us. 

Given the devastation a nuclear attack could bring, cutting such a cheap insurance policy against it makes little sense. The Obama administration currently spends five times as much on missile defenses to protect Europe as it does to defend the U.S. Even if Congress were to cut to missile defense, shouldn’t we at least put homeland protection as the first priority?  

As it rushes to cut spending, Congress should avoid eliminating our only defense against nuclear missile attack. 

Alexandria, Va.

MEADS program, US could save real money

From David F. Berganini, Jr., president, MEADS International

In response to Rebeccah Heinrichs’s “Disappearing Defense Funds” (Sept. 21) on The Hill’s Congress Blog: Recent articles from the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a group of U.S. tax-watch organizations continue to distort the financial benefits of the Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS) program. We wholeheartedly agree with their objectives to make taxpayer spending more productive, but ours is a larger vision about how that might be done.

The fact of the matter is that 70 percent of weapon system cost lies in operations and sustainment, and the 40-year-old Patriot system is costly to man and maintain. For example, the U.S. has awarded more than $3 billion in contracts in the past six years to support, repair and upgrade U.S. Patriot systems — twice what it has invested to develop MEADS as a next-generation replacement — and it plans to invest hundreds of millions more. Patriot also requires an additional maintenance company in every battalion; MEADS does not. Plus, a single 360-degree MEADS battery can defend as much area as eight Patriot batteries. 

Because the U.S. is not alone in its need for fiscal belt-tightening, Germany and Italy have also shared the costs to develop MEADS. So the U.S. investment in MEADS could ultimately be paid back through the partner capacity it builds. Both of these nations have identified MEADS as their national commitment to a European missile defense system.

So let’s agree that MEADS funding is a critically important issue. It is so important that the Government Accountability Office has been asked to compare the life cycle costs for MEADS versus upgrading and maintaining the existing Patriot infrastructure. We fully support this request because MEADS is specifically designed to drive down operational and support costs every year it is fielded. By not going forward with MEADS, our nation could waste up to $40 billion to continue to operate and modify Patriot’s Cold War architecture and a more limited defense. 

We think the savings difference is clear. MEADS International would welcome the opportunity to brief the foundation and vocal taxpayer organizations to set the record straight. With MEADS, the U.S. could save real money over the next 25 years and vastly increase the Army’s air and missile defense clout. 

We should be on the same page with these groups. Rather than trying to save millions in the next federal budget, we should be working together to save billions in the years ahead.

Orlando, Fla.

Honor Nobel winners by better funding research

From Mary Woolley, CEO of Research!America

The Nobel Prize announcements are a reminder of the extraordinary commitment of researchers in the dogged pursuit of discoveries that can save lives and improve quality of life for millions of Americans. As winners celebrate this esteemed recognition, we should intensify our resolve to give researchers and institutions across the country adequate funding to unleash more discoveries that could prolong the lives of Americans suffering from life-threatening illnesses.

How fitting it would be for policymakers to honor Dr. Ralph Steinman, Dr. Bruce Beutler of Scripps Research Institute and French biologist Jules Hoffmann, the Nobel Prize winners in medicine, and other winners with a pledge to increase funding for research. Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.), chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services and Education, has demonstrated his support with a $1 billion increase for the National Institutes of Health in the panel’s fiscal 2012 funding bill. Such an investment could help lay the groundwork for our next Nobel winner. 

Alexandria, Va.