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CBRN Assessment

STRATCOM chief: Improve homeland missile defence before considering East Coast expansion

26 July 2017

Key Points

  • The head of US Strategic Command wants better space-based sensors for missile defence
  • Some in Congress are pushing for an 'East Coast' interceptor site, but commanders prioritise capability improvements over expansion

The Pentagon should work to improve sensors and interceptors for homeland missile defence before considering expanding the system with an East Coast site, according to the head of US Strategic Command (STRATCOM). Such an expansion has long been a priority for some in Congress.

A GMD GBI is shown here being lowered into a silo at Fort Greely, Alaska. The STRATCOM commander would like to see the homeland defence system improved technologically before considering expanding it to the East Coast. (Boeing)

Republicans in Congress in each of the last several years have pushed the Pentagon to consider an East Coast site to host homeland defence interceptors, specifically to address possible future threats from Iran. This year Congress is again considering legislative measures to push for the East Coast expansion.

STRATCOM and US Northern Command (NORTHCOM) leaders have instead emphasised improving the current system and focusing on the West Coast sites that are optimised to intercept North Korean intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).

“I’m concerned about the Iranian missile threat; I’m concerned about any missile threat that is growing,” said STRATCOM Chief General John Hyten. He noted the Iranian nuclear threat “is not growing” because it is capped by the Obama administration’s Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, but Iran’s missile capabilities do appear to be advancing.

“Before I would advocate building any new interceptor site, I’d want to have better sensors and better interceptors,” he told reporters on 26 July. “I see the most important thing that we have to invest in right now [for missile defence] would be increase sensor capabilities,” he said, citing the need to better characterise missile threats.

“If I had to put the next dollar into the missile defence business, I’d put it in sensors,” Gen Hyten said. “I believe that the best place to but sensors in the future is in space, because you can’t have access to enough land points in the world to have a full sensor capability.”

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