The placement of missiles in the East, potentially at Fort Drum, may not do much to help in the nation's defense and could result in billions of dollars in unnecessary spending, according to a handful of military policy experts with reservations about the plan.
The issue was discussed in a conference call with media members Monday afternoon hosted by the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, which is listed as a nonpartisan research group dedicated to reducing the number of nuclear weapons.
Philip E. Coyle, former associate director for national security and international affairs for the Office of Science and Technology Policy under President Barack Obama, said U.S. missile technology would need to be improved before such a site would be feasible.
"You have to fix what's broken first," Mr. Coyle said. "It's like worrying whether you have enough sweaters when your pants are falling down."
Mr. Coyle said his comments were based on a report released in September by the National Research Council. The report, which claimed U.S. missile defenses were "very expensive" and had "limited effectiveness," suggested such a Northeast site but also improvements to the missiles, radar technology and tactics.
Spending for such a site is being debated in conference negotiations between the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate for the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act. The House plan calls for $100 million to find and assess possible site locations, which would be ready for use by 2015. The Senate bill does not feature any such funding.
The Pentagon earlier this year suggested such a site would not be necessary. Supporters of the site say placing missiles in the Northeast would help protect against attacks from places such as Iran.
Last week, the Congressional Research Service reported Iran was not on track to have missiles that could hit the United States by 2015.
A Northeast site would be in addition to sites already operational at Fort Greely, Alaska, and Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.
Kingston Reif, the center's director of nuclear nonproliferation, said Fort Drum would be a likely place for the site given the amount of funding already allocated for its growth. Both the House and Senate versions of the bill call for $25.9 million for a new missile defense data terminal complex similar to those on the West Coast.
Mr. Coyle, comparing costs to Fort Greely, said the expense for a missile site in the Northeast might be $4 billion over five years.
John Isaacs, the center's executive director, said the timetable in place would mean the only usable missile technologies would be the types already in use, which had shown limited efficacy.
Asked whether such a site would be approved in the conference negotiations, Mr. Reif said the Senate, acting in step with the White House, would press against the missile site funding. Mr. Coyle suggested that even if the proposal is approved, budget cuts tied to the looming fiscal cliff may eliminate the plan's funding.