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NTU Supports Fiscally Responsible Missile Defense Strategy

The Honorable Carl M. Levin, Chairman
The Honorable James M. Inhofe, Ranking Member
Committee on Armed Services
United States Senate
Room 228, Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
The Honorable Barbara A. Mikulski, Chairwoman
The Honorable Richard C. Shelby, Vice Chairman
Committee on Appropriations
United States Senate
Room S-128, The Capitol
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Chairman Levin, Ranking Member Inhofe, Chairwoman Mikulski, Vice Chairman Shelby, and Members of the Committees:

On behalf of the 362,000-member National Taxpayers Union (NTU), I urge you to pursue a fiscally responsible strategy for missile defense that continues to shift funding away from the fourth stage of the Phased Adaptive Approach (PAA) and toward more viable systems with near-term ability to protect the nation. The President’s Fiscal Year 2014 budget is the latest proposal to reflect this prioritization, which has earned growing appreciation among members of the scientific community, national security experts, taxpayer advocacy groups, and fiscal conservatives in Congress.

As you may know, NTU has for the better part of two years counseled public officials to reconsider PAA’s fourth level, specifically the plan to develop Block II-B of the SM-3 interceptor. Though highly advanced and ambitious in its still-on-paper conception, Block II-B is also laden with technological as well as financial uncertainty – two characteristics which, in NTU’s 44-year history, we know all too well as having a way of reinforcing each other. From the Airbone Laser project to the Comanche helicopter, from the V-22 Osprey to the Littoral Combat Ship, we have witnessed how a spiral takes hold in a system’s evolution whereby the initial funding commitment drives risks in design that prove to require upgrades, in turn begetting additional infusions of tax dollars. In some cases, Congress has arrested the spiral before it ensnares taxpayers; in others, the fiscal pain afflicts Americans to this day. Yet, a common feature of all has been one or even several “early warning points” where signs of imminent danger to taxpayers should give policymakers pause to determine whether funding should continue. The SM-3 Block II-B program has now reached another one of these points.

The latest development of concern to taxpayer advocates is the U.S. Government Accountability Office’s (GAO’s) January 2013 report on Block II-B alternatives prepared for the House Armed Services Committee’s Subcommittee on Strategic Forces. This review is key because it specifically examined claims from Department of Defense and Missile Defense Agency officials that options to Block II-B were considered in early planning procedures. GAO concluded that while some thought was given to those options, they could not have served as substitutes for a more rigorous Analysis of Alternatives (AoA). GAO explains:

[T]he [non-AoA] reviews did not consider the life-cycle costs for each alternative or the programmatic risks of the alternatives. Further, while the reviews did consider alternatives that could provide validated capabilities, the range of alternatives considered did not include other (non-Aegis) missile options that could provide an additional layer of defense to the United States. This narrow range of alternatives is particularly problematic because it limits the quality of the answers that can be provided for other key questions.

The ultimate conclusion, however, is far more troubling to fiscal conservatives. GAO was not entirely dismissive of the Block II-B concept, but did assert that “without fully exploring alternatives, programs may not achieve an optimal concept for the war fighter, are at risk for cost increases, and can face schedule delays or technology maturity challenges.”

Furthermore, in September of last year, the National Research Council (NRC) for the National Academy of Sciences released a report entitled, “Making Sense of Ballistic Missile Defense: An Assessment of Concepts and Systems for U.S. Boost-Phase Missile Defense in Comparison to Other Alternatives.” The 16-member panel that considered the weighty questions implied in the study’s title included engineers, scientists, and other experts from think tanks, academic institutions, and the defense industry. The conclusion was that the present course for missile defense needed to stress existing, better-proven systems and designs:

Phase 4 of PAA … is an expensive solution for improving homeland defense yet limited in effectiveness. The committee’s analysis shows that notional interceptors with a fly-out velocity greater than 4.5km/sec benefit neither European defense nor other Aegis defense missions. Therefore, Phase 4 of PAA, which is the SM-3 Block II-B higher performance interceptor, has value only for an early shot opportunity for homeland defense, provided it has sufficient burnout velocity to preclude being overflown, but comes at a high acquisition and life-cycle cost. [The panel’s] alternative – an evolved GMD [Ground-Based Midcourse Defense] system – provides a more effective homeland defense solution and avoids any need for Phase 4 of PAA.

A subsequent New York Times analysis of the findings noted that the report claims the National Research Council’s strategy “could fit within current antimissile spending – which runs about $10 billion a year – if the military eliminated what the panel describes as costly and unneeded systems.” The Times also pointed out that the report was “the first time that [NRC], chartered by Congress to give scientific and technical advice to the government and considered the nation’s preeminent group of scientists – has weighed in on the nation’s overall plans for defeating missile attacks.”

Up until this year, the Administration’s intent on whether it would heed these findings and adjust its missile defense strategy was unclear. The White House’s Fiscal Year 2013 budget for the Missile Defense Agency appeared to ignore the bipartisan guidance of at least two House and Senate committees by proposing to take away nearly $300 million from the I-B missile initiative in order to sharply boost funding for the speculative II-B program.

We are therefore pleased to see that the Administration is now proposing to zero out funding for Block II-B. Lawmakers should not hesitate to applaud this choice and uphold it in their own deliberations over the FY 2014 National Defense Authorization Act as well as upcoming appropriations legislation. Representative Michael Turner (R-OH) perceptively summed up the urgency of this course when he told the Washington Times last month that “the reports have clearly shown that there are technical problems with that non-existent missile interceptor [Block II-B], and we still have ground-based missile technology that works and would secure the United States.”

In the March Continuing Resolution, Congress already took a prudent step toward rebalancing our missile defense systems by reducing Block II-B funding for the rest of the Fiscal Year to $62 million. To be certain, many other decisions must be made in paring back civilian and military programs so as to restore structural stability to the nation’s finances. These include further changes to missile defense initiatives that are performing poorly or are no longer needed. But with the Administration’s FY 2014 budget calling for an end to Block II-B, lawmakers have an excellent opportunity now for further progress in making the national security budget more sustainable over the long term.

To those who believe cutting Block II-B is a shortsighted reduction that risks future capabilities, I will reiterate the warning that seven citizen groups stated in an April 2012 open letter to Congress organized by NTU:

[W]hat of the risks inherent in building fewer I-B missiles, which can be fielded by 2015? What of the risks in diverting money to a drawing-board system (II-B) that may not have a working prototype within this decade, even as real threats from ballistic missiles are emerging? What of the risks in failing to better prioritize federal programs and regain control over budget deficits?

We would contend that all of those risks have become all the more ominous since their elucidation more than a year ago. Yet, the saner course to manage and overcome them – ending Block II-B – has become clearer as well. NTU and its members stand ready to assist you in completing this vital realignment of budgetary and military policy.

Pete Sepp
Executive Vice President

Cc: Committees on Appropriations and Armed Services, U.S. House of Representatives