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White House opposes changed timeline on Poland missile interceptor base

NAPLES, Italy—The Obama administration says a House plan to accelerate installation of a missile interceptor site in Poland and deploy short-range air and missile defense capabilities to the country offer few benefits while risking other defense programs.

Its opposition is included in a document released by the White House this week detailing disagreements with parts of the National Defense Authorization Act being considered in the Republican-controlled House. Taking into account eastern Europe’s recent concerns over Russia, the bill would speed up the timeline for installation of the Aegis Ashore missile interceptor system in Poland to 2016 from the original finish date of 2018.

“Accelerating the deployment of the Aegis Ashore site by two years would impose large costs on, and risk to, other Navy programs and likely would not change Russia’s security calculation in Europe,” the White House statement read.

Deployment of the short-range missile batteries by December, as required by the bill, would take from other missile defense priorities, it said.

The Poland site is part of a U.S.-led missile defense shield for the continent, known as the European Phased Adaptive Approach. Other components include ship-based interceptors aboard four U.S. destroyers in Spain, a radar site in Turkey and a command element in Germany. Another shore-based site is currently being built in Romania.

The plan has caused a major rift with Russia, which says the shield is aimed against its own nuclear missile arsenal. The U.S. and its NATO allies insist the defense system is to meant to protect Europe from potentially hostile countries in the region, such as Iran.

New tensions with Russia after its March invasion of Crimea have resulted in calls for speeding up installation of the site. The head of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency, Vice Adm. James Syring, told a House subcommittee in April that acceleration would be possible with additional funding.

The Navy is currently building the Romania interceptor site at an air base in Deveslu, which is scheduled for completion by the end of 2015 and will be manned by about 200 sailors. Costs of the construction have risen sharply since initial plans. A GAO report released in April found that the combined price of the Romania interceptor site and a test battery in Hawaii have doubled from initial estimates, to $1.6 billion, up from an $813 million.

On Wednesday, the Pentagon announced that the U.S. military on the Hawaiian island of Kauai has conducted the first flight test of the new missile defense system, according to The Associated Press. The Missile Defense Agency and the Navy used the Aegis Weapon System to track a simulated target in Tuesday evening’s test, the report said, adding that it successfully intercepted the simulated target using a Standard Missile-3 Block IB missile.

Poland has accelerated fielding its own missile defense shield since the Crimea invasion. The House bill states the country still needs a short-range air and missile defense capability while it develops its own system.

The White House document details its opposition to other aspects of the House bill, including its failure to reform servicemember compensation, its limited funding for the Littoral Combat Ship, and its limits on retiring weapons systems and aircraft like the A-10 Warthog.

The full House is considering the bill for a vote after the House Armed Services Committee approved it two weeks ago. The Senate Armed Services committee will soon release its own draft.

Beardsley.steven@stripes.com
Twitter:@sjbeardsley
 

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