House panel to call for building East Coast missile site by 2018

The House Armed Services Committee is likely to approve an amendment Wednesday to build a third missile defense site on the East Coast by 2018.

The amendment from Rep. Michael Turner (R-Ohio), obtained by The Hill, would direct $140 million in the 2014 Defense budget to go toward building the ground-based missile interceptors.

A new East Coast missile site, which has the support of the committee’s Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), is poised to be one of the most contentious issues debated during the marathon mark-up of the Defense authorization bill on Wednesday.

McKeon did not directly include the funding for the site in his version of the Pentagon policy bill that was released Monday, but he created the space for $140 million that could be directed to fund the East Coast site through an amendment.

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“My amendment to the NDAA [National Defense Authorization Act] tomorrow would create a mandate to deploy the East Coast site by a specific date,” Turner said in a statement to The Hill. “This would ensure that we are taking active steps to protect the homeland against the threats we see developing around the world. Our nation cannot afford to ignore the risks that come with hostile nations developing long-range strike capabilities.”

The money for the East Coast missile site is smaller than the $250 million that Turner had initially sought in a letter he and 15 committee Republicans sent to the House Appropriations Defense subcommittee in April.

An aide said that the Defense budget is tight across the board, and that the money included illustrates the commitment to building a third interceptor site.

The amendment cites a quote from the Missile Defense Agency that deploying up to 20 ground-based interceptors would cost approximately $3 billion and take five years to complete. It requests a report on the site within 180 days.

The amendment is likely to pass in the House Armed Services committee on a mostly party-line vote.

But there is Democratic opposition, including from Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.), to build a new East Coast site in addition to the interceptors already deployed in California and Alaska.

Levin and other critics have questioned the usefulness of a third site when the Pentagon has not requested it, and Iran has yet to display the capability to fire ballistic missiles that could reach U.S. soil.

Supporters cite military estimates that say Iranians are intent on developing long-range ballistic missiles and are a few years away from flight-testing the technology.

The House included $100 million for an East Coast site to be built by 2016 in last year’s Defense authorization bill, but the money was removed in conference committee. In its place, the bill signed into law included an environmental impact study for a potential third interceptor site.

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