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Spending Smarter on Missile Defense

Pete Sepp
December 1, 2011


Admiral Mike Mullen, who recently completed a stint as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was a thoughtful proponent of the connection between America’s economic security and its national security, often mentioning the national debt as the biggest threat to both and stressing the need to “steward every dollar that we have.” Mullen has retired, but the national debt sure hasn’t been, which means that “stewardship” is more important than ever. Earlier this week NTU weighed in with a letter to lawmakers on one such development our budget team came across – the Senate Appropriations Committee’s decision to shift tax dollars away from a missile defense project with uncertain prospects and toward ventures with greater near-term promise.

Much bigger brains than my own can delve into the technical details of the SM-3 missile, which is part of the anti-missile phase of the Navy’s Aegis air defense system. However, NTU’s four-decade institutional knowledge of federal contracting and project oversight tells us that the Senate Committee made the smart move.

SM-3 Blocks II-A and I-B, which the Committee chose to fund, have good potential for a solid capability to defeat several ballistic missile threats our nation may be encountering before Block II-B (the version the Committee directed funding away from) could be reliably tested and fielded. Plus, on a dollar-for-dollar basis, funding II-B might not pay off with a vastly better weapon in a predictable period of time -- potentially risking an all-too-familiar ascent into an alarming cost spiral. As the Committee noted, “the requirements for the SM-3 Block II-B remain in flux, as does its acquisition strategy and the associated costs for integration into the Fleet.”

NTU has communicated its views to Congress on a variety of  defense projects this year, including the F-35 alternate engine and the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle. In many cases, we’ve had to offer words of caution about Congress’s decisions.

But on SM-3, the Senate Committee is making the right call. As our letter to Appropriators in both chambers states, “the Senate Committee’s funding choice on SM-3 represents the best possible prioritization of resources based on prudent risk assessments, and [NTU] would urge that any conference agreement reflect this stance.”

We’ll be keeping a watchful eye and urging a steady hand as the appropriations process moves forward, to make sure the Senate’s position on SM-3 becomes law.



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