FAIRBANKS — Fort Greely could see an increase in the number of interceptor missiles beyond the increase announced earlier this year depending on the level of threat posed by Iran, the director of the Missile Defense Agency told members of a Senate committee.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in March said the Obama administration had decided to expand the number of missiles at Fort Greely, located near Delta Junction, to 44 in response to actions by North Korea.
Vice Admiral James Syring, at a hearing of the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee on Wednesday, said the number could go higher.
“The 44 is important; it addresses what we are seeing from North Korea today,” he said in response to a question from subcommittee member Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska. “What you’ll see is the department evaluate the need or the requirement to go beyond the 44 as we evaluate the threat from Iran and other nations like that.”
Murkowski also questioned Syring, making his first appearance before the committee as the new director of the Missile Defense Agency, about progress toward the expansion at Fort Greely announced by Hagel.
That work will include the restoration of Missile Field 1, which the Obama administration mothballed in 2011, with the additional ground-based interceptor missiles to be installed by 2017.
Syring said contracts for the work could be released this summer.
“The first step is for us to complete on schedule the Field 1 refurbishment and to get those silos ready for the GBIs we’re going to buy,” he said. “There would be growth possibilities beyond that if we decided to go beyond 44 missiles; 44 gives us a roughly 50 percent increase in terms of the defense of our homeland, against a ballistic missile attack.”
Murkowski also took the opportunity of the hearing to restate her criticism of the administration’s decision to mothball Missile Field 1.
“It was absolutely my view that it was short-sighted by the administration with the previous decommissioning of Missile Field 1 at Greely,” she told Syring. “My concern is that we not leave Greely at less than full capacity and capability.”
Syring’s appearance at the subcommittee hearing was in relation to the Missile Defense Agency’s request for $7.684 billion for the next fiscal year, which starts Oct. 1.
That budget request also includes $51 million to continue radar work at Clear Air Force Station, near Anderson west of the Parks Highway, Syring told the subcommittee. The agency worked with the Air Force last year to upgrade the Early Warning Radar at Clear “to give it a missile defense capability, providing improved ballistic missile defense sensor coverage over the continental United States and reducing sustainment and operating costs.”
Murkowski asked Syring about the interceptor missile test failure of earlier this month, the third consecutive test failure.
“We understand what the problem is through ground testing,” Syring said. “We’re confident it’s been completed and adequately addressed.”
The next flight test is scheduled for March.
In discussing threats to the U.S., Syring noted that North Korea continues work on developing an intermediate-range ballistic missile “capable of reaching Guam, the Aleutian Islands and potentially Hawaii.”
Contact managing editor Rod Boyce at 459-7585. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMeditor.