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A delegation of Republican lawmakers on the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) have petitioned Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel to reverse the Obama administration’s recent decision to terminate a missile interceptor array that could protect United States soil from an Iranian attack and bolster U.S. defenses.
The U.S. suffers from “a large capability gap to defend the United States from Iran,” the 19 lawmakers wrote to Hagel earlier this week. They demanded President Barack Obama allocate “no less” than $250 million so that 20 new missile interceptors could be deployed on the East Coast.
The Defense Department announced earlier this month that it would bolster separate missile defense capabilities on the West Coast in order to combat the threat from North Korea, which has successfully tested missiles that could target the United States.
The lawmakers, among them HASC chairman Howard “Buck” McKeon (R., Calif.) and Rep. Mike Rogers (R., Mich.), argued that the East Coast remains vulnerable to an Iranian attack.
Iran is on pace to test a new intercontinental ballistic missile later this year, the lawmakers noted. Yet the U.S. is not prepared to confront such weapons.
The “administration admitted it was wrong about the pace of the North Korea threat” in announcing that the Defense Department would add 14 more interceptors to a site in Alaska, the lawmakers said in a joint press release.
Defenses should be further strengthened given this miscalculation, they argued.
“The administration’s announcement to terminate the SM-3 block IIB [interceptors], in addition to sending another shockwave through our European alliances, also creates a large gap in the defense of the United States from the Iranian missile threat,” the lawmakers stated.
Republicans remain “concerned the administration, which consistently understated the North Korea threat, as acknowledged by Friday’s reversal, is now doing the same thing in terms of the Iranian threat,” the statement said.
Threats that once seemed hypothetical are becoming a reality, experts warned.
“This potential threat [of a missile strike] is becoming reality, as underscored by North Korea’s successful long-range missile test in December 2012 and claim to have successfully detonated a ‘miniaturized’ nuclear device in February merits the administration’s response,” Chris Griffin, executive director of the Foreign Policy Initiative, wrote in a recent op-ed.
“Likewise, of course, for Iran’s ongoing nuclear and ballistic missile programs, which Alaska-based interceptors are not optimally located to hit,” Griffin noted. “Whether or not the tide of war is receding, the ballistic missile threat to the homeland is growing.”
“Unless the administration now goes forward with a third [defense system] site on the U.S. east coast, the homeland will be more vulnerable as a result of these cancellations,” Griffin wrote.