As the House debates the FY 2012 National Defense Authorization Act today and tomorrow, it will take up the following amendments on nuclear weapons and nonproliferation policy.
#64 – Missile defense – Loretta Sanchez (CA) – cuts the additional $100 million added by the Committee for the ground-based mid-course defense (GMD) system (National Missile Defense) based in Alaska and California.
#88 – Limitation on nuclear force reductions – Michael Turner (R-OH) Clarifies the intent of section 1055 by explicitly allowing activities determined by the Secretary of Defense to be necessary to ensure the continued safety, security, and reliability of the nuclear weapons stockpile.
#89 – Tactical Nuclear Weapons – Turner (R-OH) Would create an additional exception allowing for the reductions, withdrawals, or consolidations of non-strategic nuclear weapons in Europe, when made pursuant to either a Treaty or authorized by an Act of Congress.
#135 – Non-proliferation funding – Loretta Sanchez (CA) – increases funding for the Global Threat Reduction Initiative (Department of Energy non-proliferation funding) by $20 million with an offsetting cut elsewhere.
#137 – Russian nuclear forces – Loretta Sanchez (CA) – requires a report on Russia’s nuclear forces.
All of these amendments save for Sanchez’s amendment to cut $100 million from GMD will be considered “en bloc.” An en bloc amendment consists of a group of several amendments. They are supported by the majority and minority and will be uncontroversial.
Sanchez’s amendment on GMD, however, will be controversial…
Two weeks ago he House Armed Services Committee agreed to an increase of $100 million for GMD, which is designed to protect the continental U.S. from a limited missile attack from a rogue state such as Iran or North Korea. Rep. Sanchez offered an amendment to eliminate the increase and instead add $100 million to the National Guard and Reserve Equipment account. However, Rep. Turner offered a second-degree amendment to retain the $100 million increase for the system by proposing to cut $100 million from a U.S. army reconnaissance and surveillance program. Turner’s second-degree amendment was adopted but it was opposed by every Democrat and two Republicans.
Sanchez is offering her amendment again on the floor, although this time the $100 million saved by the cut will go to debt reduction rather than another program.
There are a number of reasons why the additional $100 million would be better spent elsewhere (or not at all):
- The U.S. ground-based mid-course defense system continues to be beset by development challenges and testing failures. Seven out of fifteen tests of the system have failed since 1999, including the last two intercept flight tests in January 2010 and December 2010.
- In testimony to the Senate and House Armed Services Committees earlier this year, Missile Defense Agency Director Lt. Gen. Patrick O’Reilly stated that the FY 2012 budget request of $1.16 billion for GMD reflects his decision to delay the production of seven additional interceptors and a flight test scheduled for this year until the problems that caused the most recent test failure are resolved. According to Gen. O’Reilly, “there is a reduction in our need, our funding. And we’re using that funding in order to support these other activities to return to flight testing.” In other words, an additional $100 million for GMD is money Gen. O’Reilly doesn’t need or want.
- Gen. O’Reilly also stated that reductions in the out-year budget requests for GMD reflect a transition from investment in construction and infrastructure to work on interceptors and flight tests as well as the achievement of operating efficiencies. “We have not reduced what we intended to accomplish even though there’s 2.4 billion (dollars) less in the MDA budget,” he said.
- As Center Chairman Lt. Gen. Robert Gard wrote in a recent analysis, in his 2010 report, the director of the Department of Defense Operational Test and Evaluation office stated that ground and computer tests “suggest” that the Ground-Based Mid-Course system can provide a capability to defend the U.S. against a limited number of long-range ballistic missiles with “uncomplicated emerging threat warheads”, meaning with no or very simple decoys or other counter-measures. Yet in a 1999 National Intelligence Estimate, the U.S. National Intelligence Council stated: “We assess that countries developing ballistic missiles,” including North Korea and Iran, “would also develop various responses to U.S. theatre and national defenses … by the time they flight test their missiles.” The system has yet to be tested against operationally realistic threats that use decoys or countermeasures that could defeat the system and there are no near term plans to do so.
UPDATE, 5/25, 11:00 PM: Rep. Sanchez’s amendment on GMD came up for debate at about 10:45 PM just before the debate on the defense bill adjourned for the day. Reps. Sanchez, Andrews, and Smith (the ranking member on the House Armed Services Committee) hammered the rationale for adding an additional $100 million for national missile defense, noting that Missile Defense Agency Director Lt. Gen. Patrick O’Reilly testified to Congress earlier this year that he didn’t need or want additional money for GMD because MDA has altered its plans until they solve the problem that caused the most recent test failure. Rep. Sanchez asked for a roll call vote on the amendment, which will take place tomorrow.
UPDATE, 5/26, 1:50 PM: The amendment failed 184-234. 15 Republicans voted for the amendment, 16 Democrats voted against it. More or less a party line vote.