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HASC Keeps Airborne Laser Alive

The House Armed Services Committee today added $362 million to the Obama administration’s 2011 defense authorization bill for missile defense, including $50 million for further tests of Boeing’s Airborne Laser, a program the Obama administration had sought to wind down.

“I am particularly pleased that the Mark increases funding for directed energy research. It was clear that the budget request was not sufficient to support further flight testing using the Airborne Laser Test Bed as well as mature innovative directed energy technologies,” Rep. Michael R. Turner R-Ohio, top Republican on the Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, said in a prepared statement. Of course, we'll have to see whether the appropriators add money as well. The Senate may be more reluctant to fund ABL given Defense Secretary Robert Gates' robust arguments for termination of the program of record, leaving it as a test bed.

The HASC mark also restored funding for the Ground-based Midcourse Defense program and the completion of Missile Field Two in Alaska. Turner said the Obama administration’s phased approach to homeland missile defense would leave the U.S. vulnerable to Iranian ICBMs that could be in service as early as 2015. “Despite the Administration’s conclusion last year that the long-range threat was not materializing as rapidly as once thought, we are seeing new details emerge on North Korea and Iran’s long-range missile programs,” he said.

The mark also added $50 million for the Navy’s Aegis SM-3 missile production and for the Army’s Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD). “There was bipartisan concern that — despite the Administration’s plans for Aegis and THAAD inventory growth—the budget request created near-term production gaps and inefficiencies for industry because the bulk of the funding was pushed to the outyears,” Turner said.

Turner said he worries that the Obama administration’s recently released Nuclear Posture Review changes the longstanding policy of “calculated ambiguity” and takes “options off the table.” He promised to address these issues in the full committee markup scheduled for next week.

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