Pentagon plan delays decision on Fort Drum missile defense site
By MARK WEINER | Syracuse Media Group | Published: January 17, 2019
WASHINGTON (Tribune News Service) — President Donald Trump unveiled plans to expand American missile defenses on Thursday, but he stopped short of deciding whether to build a ground-based interceptor site for the East Coast.
The Pentagon has been considering whether the U.S. should build a $3.6 billion missile interceptor base at Fort Drum in New York or at military installations in Ohio and Michigan.
The Pentagon’s missile defense review, made public Thursday after more than a year of delays, held off on a decision about building a new missile interceptor site in the United States.
Instead, Trump announced the military would add 20 ground-based missile interceptors to Fort Greeley, Alaska, one of two existing sites that defend the U.S. from intercontinental ballistic missiles. The other site is at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
He also called for large-scale new investments in American missile defense technologies, including space-based defenses that could include missile interceptors.
“We are committed to establishing a missile defense program that can shield every city in the United States, and we will never negotiate away our right to do this,” Trump said Thursday in a speech at the Pentagon.
The Pentagon’s 81-page missile defense review said the military will keep the option of building a third ground-based interceptor site to guard “against the potential expansion of missile threats to the homeland, including a future Iranian ICBM capability.”
The report said previously completed studies of potential sites at Fort Drum, Camp Ravenna Joint Training Center in Ohio and Fort Custer Training Center in Michigan will enable the Defense Department to “shorten the deployment timeline should the United States determine that threat conditions warrant building a new interceptor site.”
The report added, “The decision to do so, and site selection, will be informed by pertinent factors at the time, particularly emerging threat conditions.”
House members from New York and economic development officials have touted “the economic advantage” of building the site at Fort Drum, noting that the home of the Army’s 10th Mountain Division has the infrastructure and community support needed for the new base.
The project would bring 1,450 jobs and $220 million per year in economic value to the community that hosts the interceptor base.
The Missile Defense Agency disclosed in 2016 that it had selected Fort Drum and the Ohio and Michigan bases as finalists as a potential site to host the interceptor base.
The Pentagon completed a two-year, nearly $6 million study to fulfill a mandate from members of Congress who have been pushing for a third interceptor site.
Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, who represents a district that includes Fort Drum, about 80 miles north of Syracuse, is among House members who have said there is a need for the new site. Stefanik serves on the House Armed Services Committee.
Top generals in charge of missile defense have disagreed with Stefanik over the need for a third site. The generals suggested money would be better invested to upgrade the existing interceptor sites in Alaska and California.