The U.S. Defense Department has identified five possible East Coast missile defense sites, though the effort is still mostly a paperwork exercise and far from becoming reality.
The potential locations for housing ground-based interceptors are Fort Drum in upstate New York; Camp Ethan Allen Training Site in Vermont; Naval Air Station Portsmouth SERE Training Area in Maine; Camp Ravenna Joint Training Center in Ohio and Fort Custer Training Center in Michigan.
The Pentagon maintains a fleet of 30 rocket-like interceptors designed to shoot down incoming threats such as nuclear missiles as part of the Ground-based Midcourse Defense system. It already plans to increase the number of interceptors stored in silos at Fort Greely in Alaska and Vandenberg Air Force Base in California to 44 by 2017.
Led by Republicans, lawmakers recently ordered the department to study the feasibility of building a site in the eastern United States, despite the ground-based system's mixed record in tests and the fact that the brass said an additional facility wasn't required.
"In response to a congressional requirement, we are evaluating several sites in the continental United States for a potential future deployment of additional Ground-based Interceptors, or GBIs," Navy Vice Adm. James Syring, director of the Missile Defense Agency, said in a statement announcing the locations.
"While the administration has not made a decision to build another missile defense facility in the U.S. for homeland defense, if a decision were to be made in the future to construct a new site, completing the required site study and environmental impact statement would shorten the timeline required to build such a site," he said.
An environmental impact study alone may take as long as two years, Syring said.
In a written reply to Sen. Carl Levin in June, Syring, along with Lt. Gen. Richard Formica, commander of the Joint Functional Component Command for Integrated Missile Defense, acknowledged there is “no validated military requirement” for an East Coast missile defense site.
Regardless, a team from the Defense Department will visit each of the five potential locations to study the infrastructure, including power supply, water availability, transportation access, according to the statement.
An interceptor launched from Vandenberg during a July 5 test missed its target over the Pacific Ocean. Afterward, lawmakers cited among their concerns the system's record of hitting targets in only 8 of 15 attempts; the high cost of testing, which runs about $215 million per exercise; and the fact that many of the interceptors aren’t operational.
The Pentagon plans to spend more than $1 billion in the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1 to expand the fleet of interceptors. Overall, it wants to spend $9.16 billion on ballistic missile defense. That’s $558 million, or 5.7 percent, less than the $9.72 billion it requested for this year.
The figures don’t take into account automatic budget cuts, known as sequestration, which took effect March 1 and will remain in effect over the next decade unless Congress and the White House agree to an alternative deficit-reduction plan.