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Camp Ethan Allen On Shortlist For DOD Missile Program

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U.S. Navy
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The Missile Defense Agency informed Senator Patrick Leahy today that the Camp Ethan Allen Training Site in Jericho is one of five locations under consideration for an interceptor missile program.

In a letter (PDF) from the agency to Leahy's office, agency director J.D. Syring said the MDA "will contact the installation commands as part of a data gathering process associated with the siting study assessing potential candidate interceptor sites."

Leahy, in a statement released along with the MDA letter, said he opposes the location of interceptor missiles in Vermont.

“I’ve always felt that the multiple billions spent on missile defense are a monumental waste of money, on technologically challenged systems, and I am emphatically against putting one of these sites in Vermont," Leahy said.

Senator Bernie Sanders also released a statement in opposition to the proposed missile site.

“My first impression," he said, "is that this is a very bad idea and, for a wide variety of reasons, I do not believe that it will ever happen.”

Rep. Peter Welch said the proposal was "the wrong location for a bad idea and dead on arrival."

Governor Peter Shumlin said in a statement that he agrees with Vermont's Washington delegation in opposing the missile site.

The need for an east coast interceptor missile site has been the subject of debate on Capitol Hill in recent years after President Barack Obama canceled Bush Administration plans to put interceptor sites in Eastern Europe in 2009.

The Missile Defense Agency's list of five sites is part of a study the agency is doing at the request of lawmakers to determine whether an east coast site is necessary, a Leahy staffer said. The agency is also looking at locations in Ohio, Maine, Michigan and Fort Drum, N.Y.

Senator Carl Levin (D - MI), chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, asked officials (PDF) in the MDA as well as the Army's Space and Missile Defense Command in June to provide more information about a proposed intercept site on the east coast. Levin's request came as lawmakers debated whether or not to budget an east coast intercept site for Fiscal Year 2013 or wait until the study was completed.

In their joint response (PDF) to Levin, Syring and Richard Formica, commander of the Army's missile defense program, said that there is "no validated military requirement to deploy an East Coast missile defense site." The missile program heads also agreed that there was a more cost-effective option for missile defense that is more readily available than an interceptor program.

"While a potential East Coast site would add operational capability," they wrote, "it would come at significant matieriel development and service sustainment cost."

Sen. Leahy said he is opposed to a new interceptor site in Vermont in part because of this specific interceptor system's spotty success record. In an interview, Leahy spokesman David Carle elaborated:

"There are three different systems that comprise missile defense these days," he said. "One is directed to the launch phase of an intercontinental ballistic missile, one is for the time in flight, and the third is for reentry. This is directed toward the middle phase, and the equipment for the middle phase has an especially spotty record."

The three American missile defense systems are focused on the three stages of an intercontinental ballistic missile's flight: Before it leaves the atmosphere, while it is in space, and finally as it is coming back into the atmosphere toward its target.

The system designed to intercept missiles in space - known as "midcourse interceptors" - has been tested 16 times since 1999, Leahy's office said, and has succeeded in only eight of those tests, and there has not been a successful test of the system in three attempts since 2008.

In an interview, Leahy said the real reason these systems are being considered is political.

"The lobby on this is intense," he said. "I mean they’ve lobbied me, they’ve lobbied just about every member of Congress. I keep telling them I’m against it.” 

Carle said that it's "unknown" how many people are required to staff such a site. Missile Defense Agency spokesman Rick Lehner said staffing estimates are "impossible at this point because there's really no plan or design for such a site."

Lehner said decisions about who might staff a Vermont facility would fall to military command centers, but a similar site in Alaska is operated by the Alaska National Guard.

Updated at 4:22 p.m. to reflect interviews with Leahy and Lehner.

Updated at 3:55 p.m. on 9/12/2013 to reflect a statement from Rep. Peter Welch.

Updated at 3:40 p.m. on 9/12/2013 to reflect statements from Gov. Peter Shumlin and Sen. Bernie Sanders and name the four other locations in consideration.