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Sanchez: Target Missile Defense Funds at Technologies That Work

Our country is weathering a serious economic crisis, which means we must do more with less, including in national security. This new reality is forcing hard decisions, but we can and must focus on smart investments for our current and future security needs.

For missile defense, we must focus on proven missile defense technology against the most likely threats. In addition, we must preserve strategic stability as we deploy missile defenses against Iran and North Korea, and we must partner with allies for effective burden-sharing and providing a layered defense.

Our nation’s deficit problem has forced the challenge of making substantial reductions to military spending while still maintaining a strong defense. The military will no longer be able to afford current exorbitant prices of certain weapon systems, aircrafts and vehicles. We can no longer afford costly investments that are wasteful or unnecessary.

For example, the Government Accountability Office, the independent nonpartisan Congressional watchdog, recommended a funding reduction of more than $400 million to the Ground-based Midcourse Defense from the $1.2 billion requested fiscal 2012 budget because of production and refurbishment delays because of two failed interceptor tests in 2010. But House Republicans voted instead to increase funding for this program by $100 million despite assurances by the Missile Defense Agency that these additional funds were not needed and before the causes of the test failures were adequately identified, resolved and corrected.

Improving acquisition practices means ensuring the development of mature, operationally proven and reliable technology before producing and deploying it. Smart investments require clear and transparent acquisition baselines to track project costs and schedules, and this year’s House defense authorization bill requires a missile defense accountability report to better track acquisition decisions and changes. 

We know, as the GAO has warned, that in the past, deficiencies in missile defense acquisition oversight have led to rework, cost increases, delays and doubts about delivered capabilities. In a tight budget environment and to ensure effective missile defense, we can no longer afford these lapses, especially in the context of spending $90 billion in the last decade — nearly $10 billion annually — to develop these programs.

Responsible oversight also means prioritizing the most likely threats to our homeland, including attacks from short- or medium-range missiles while preparing for longer-term potential long-range missile threats.

We have made progress on theater and regional missile defenses, investing in 84 medium-range Standard Missile 3 interceptors, and we have converted 21 Aegis ships to forward-deploy these interceptors. We currently have some defense against potential limited long-range missile threats from Iran and North Korea, with 30 interceptors deployed at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California and Fort Greely in Alaska.

Additionally, implementation of the phased adaptive approach to missile defense in Europe promises further capability for intercepts to defend our homeland by 2020. As we continue to develop and further deploy missile defenses against the threats from Iran and North Korea, we must be mindful to maintain and strengthen strategic stability with Russia and China to avoid the risk of a nuclear arms race caused by misperception or miscalculation. A return to a nuclear weapons buildup would prove unnecessarily dangerous and expensive. Moreover, as we go forward, support from NATO for the phased adaptive approach to missile defense is an opportunity to increase burden sharing and save costs.

Our country is facing new and significant budget challenges. It is a new time, and we cannot continue to spend as if nothing has changed.

Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.) is ranking member of the Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces and also serves on the Homeland Security Committee.

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