House Republicans mounted a spirited critique Thursday of the Obama administration’s new European missile defense plan, saying the intelligence does not support the administration’s claims of a change in the threat.
GOP members also claimed the new plan would not sufficiently contain the threat from Iran.
The ranking member of the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee hammered away at the administration’s plan, saying flatly that he did not believe the administration’s four-stage plan sufficiently counters the growing Iranian missile threat. Rep. Mike Turner told me he had read the National Intelligence Estimate and did not find conclusions or facts that reflected the administration’s claims. A source who has read the NIE agreed with Turner: “It doesn’t say that anywhere — that the short- and medium-range threat is increasing rapidly.”
The administration has said, through Defense Secretary Robert Gates and others, that there has been a marked shift in Iran’s missile capabilities, with short- and medium-range missiles gaining ground much more quickly than are its intercontinental ballistic missiles. “So much of what matters here is classified. I wish we could put up the range maps to show you why,” Turner said as he left the hearing room. He said the administration must agree with him behind its rhetoric “or they wouldn’t be proposing alternative systems” to the Ground-Based Interceptor such as the land-based SM-3.
The Iranian threat of ICBMs is estimated to mature around 2015, Turner noted during the hearing, but the full panoply of anti-missile systems won’t be deployed to the European continent until 2018.
But Army Lt. Gen. Patrick O’Reilly, Missile Defense Agency director, said during the Thursday hearing that the GBI sites in Alaska and California are perfectly placed to counter any long-range Iranian threata should they be deployed before all elements of the new plan are in place.
“The first thing I’m hearing is that we are making a gamble,” said O’Reilly, adding that the new plan is not a crap shoot. The missile defense systems in Alaska and at Vandenberg Air Force base “can go both ways. If you look at the world from a polar projection the closest place [of American bases] to Iran is Alaska.”
Other questions were raised about the costs and number of Aegis ships needed to regularly patrol the Pacific, the Mediterranean and the North Sea by Rep. Todd Akin, ranking member of the House Armed Services tactical air and land subcommittee.
Marine Gen. James “Hoss” Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs, said the fact that North Korea and Iran rely on pad-launched missiles for their long-range systems gives the United States enough time to scramble ships to an area for a closer look. This lets the Navy use the Aegis fleet for regular patrolling the rest of the time.
“We generally have five or six days… to move into position,” Cartwright said. However, several sources have told me that the Aegis fleet is already operating at 158 percent of their readiness rate in part because of the threat from North Korea.
Finally, several congressional aides confirmed that production is set to end this year for the AN/TPY-2radar used for THAAD, one of the systems set to play a key role in the new European missile defense plan. The last radar is due to come off the line this fall. One congressional aide said industry has already approach Congress to ensure there is no loss of the industrial base for this program. And the Senate spending bill includes a plus-up for the system but the House bill does not.