Pentagon to spend $1.9 bln for missile defense overhaul

WASHINGTON, March 5 Wed Mar 5, 2014 6:16pm EST

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WASHINGTON, March 5 (Reuters) - The U.S. Missile Defense Agency on Wednesday said it is requesting $1.9 billion over the next five years to overhaul the ground-based U.S. missile defense system managed by Boeing Co and improve its reliability.

Missile Defense Agency Director Vice Admiral James Syring told reporters Tuesday that the agency was asking for about $300 million in fiscal 2015 to redesign the Raytheon Co "kill vehicle" that hits and destroys an enemy missile on contact, add a new long-range radar and fund other measures to help the system better identify and track enemy missiles.

The agency on Wednesday provided its projected spending on the initiative over the five-year period through fiscal 2019.

Spokesman Rick Lehner said the agency planned to spend $738 million on the redesign of Raytheon's Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicle (EKV), with the bulk of the spending to come in fiscal 2016 and fiscal 2017.

A total of $939.5 million was budgeted for a new long-range discrimination radar through fiscal 2019, he said.

The agency also planned to spending $198 million on new algorithms and other measures aimed at improving the system's ability to discriminate potential enemy missiles, Lehner said.

Syring said the missile defense system needed a "bottoms-up design" review, as opposed to continued reliability improvements on the margins.

The agency aims to deploy a redesigned kill vehicle, new long-range radar and other measures by 2020.

Tom Collina, research director of the private Arms Control Association, a Washington-based advocacy group, welcomed the initiative to redesign the kill vehicle but said the new equipment would not be ready until 2020. That is three years after Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel says he wants to deploy 14 additional interceptors on the West Coast, bringing the total number of U.S. ground-based interceptors to 44.

"The Pentagon's plan to spend almost $2 billion over five years to fix the broken national missile defense system underscores just how unreliable the system is and begs the question of why the Obama administration would want to expand this system before it gets fixed," Collina said.

"Rather than rush to deploy more bad interceptors by 2017, the administration should wait for improvements that all agree must get made," he said.

Riki Ellison, who heads the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance, welcomed the planned overhaul but said the Missile Defense Agency's budget request of $7.45 billion for 2015 was the lowest ever requested by President Barack Obama during his five years in office.

"Considering the growing instability around the world in North Korea, Iran, Syria and Ukraine, along with a real need to make our current U.S. homeland missile defense more reliable, this is not the time to have a record low investment in missile defense development, capability and capacity," he said.

The Pentagon's budget requested about $8.5 billion for missile defense in total, including $7.45 billion for the Missile Defense Agency. Previous requests for the agency have ranged from $7.8 billion to $8.6 billion. (Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

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