Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R., N.H.) on Tuesday called on the Obama administration and her colleagues in Congress to prioritize missile defense funding in the wake of a recent defense system testing failure.
An interceptor missile failed to block its incoming target during a July 5 test of the Ground-Based Missile Defense system. The failure of the "kill vehicle" to separate from the rest of the missile may have been due to a faulty battery, according to reports.
"We need a missile defense strategy that reflects the nature of the military threats that we face," said Ayotte during a discussion hosted by the Foreign Policy Initiative.
At a congressional hearing last week, Pentagon officials called for more regular testing of the system. Sen. Richard Durbin (D., Ill.), chairman of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, said he was concerned about funding the expansion of a program that could be ineffective.
"What troubles me is this is a system that still hasn't been proven to be able to protect America," said Durbin at a July 17 hearing.
Ayotte said the high-profile failure indicates that U.S. missile defense needs more funding, not less.
"Opponents of missile defense will undoubtedly seize on this failure and call for additional delays and budget cuts, and really say well we should wait to see what’s gonna happen with the [missile kill vehicle] CE-I and the CE-II before we go any further," she said.
"That’s exactly the wrong approach," she continued. "This administration and Congress have failed to prioritize missile defense programs … we absolutely need to test these missiles to make sure they’re working, and that is part of a strong missile defense program."
Ayotte said funding cuts could have contributed to the defense testing failure. She noted that the July test was the first one conducted in four years.
"If funding had not been slashed, this July 5th failure might not have occurred, or we might have intercepted the problem much sooner than we have now," she said. "But the bottom line of mine is that the flight test failure demonstrates the need to devote sufficient attention and resources to our national missile defense."
Ayotte said the administration needs to make missile defense funding a higher priority, particularly in light of the growing threat from Iran. She said the administration should increase testing, work to develop a next-generation kill vehicle, and put into place an East Coast missile defense site.
"It’s critical that the United States stay ahead of these growing threats. Let’s not forget that we were surprised, weren’t we, from North Korea," said Ayotte. "Let’s not be surprised by Iran."