Fort Greely’s missile-defense base could get a big boost in spending this year if the U.S. Senate approves a measure worked out last week by a bipartisan group of lawmakers. The Senate this week will consider approving a federal-budget bill and National Defense Authorization Act, which calls for 80 million dollars in construction at the missile base. That’s in addition to upgrades at the base that will increase the number of interceptor missiles there from the current 26 to 40.
Belt-tightening fever in Washington has been putting a lot of pressure on the Pentagon budget over the past couple of years. But Matt Felling, a spokesman for Senator Lisa Murkowski, says the bipartisan deals lawmakers cut last week favor a buildup at Fort Greely’s missile-defense base.
“Greely will benefit, and that will be good for our ground-based missile support up in Alaska,” Felling said.
But, those benefits depend on the Senate approving missile-defense funding in two measures. Those are the federal-budget bill passed by the House on Friday. The other is the Defense authorization measure, which sets Pentagon spending policy. That measure calls for construction of an 80-million-dollar mechanical engineering building at Greely’s missile field 1.
That’s one of three missile fields at the base, and it’s been shut down for more than four years because of water damage in its underground corridors.
Missile Defense Agency spokesman Richard Lehner (“LEN-ner”) says that damage was cleaned over the summer and fall in preparation for upgrades at missile field 1 that’ll take place over the next three years. When that’s done, six interceptor missiles will be placed in silos there, and another eight will go to missile field 2.
Felling says Murkowski and others believe Greely’s missile base should be expanded even more. He says the senator sees that as more practical than a competing proposal to build another missile-defense base in the northeastern United States at an estimated cost of $3.6 billion.
“It would be far cheaper to add or make some upgrades at Greely than it would to buy real estate in New England and build something brand new, from scratch,” Felling said.
But the performance of the ground-based interceptor system remain unproven. The interceptors have failed to knock out dummy enemy missiles in 8 of 16 tests, most recently in July.
The 2014 defense budget would invest nearly $190 million for missile and radar upgrades to improve the ground-based system.
Murkowski says further expansion at Greely may well hinge on the Pentagon’s ability to demonstrate the ground-based system works. So she says there’s a lot riding on the next test, scheduled for March.