On Wednesday, the House Armed Services Committee received a letter from Michael D. Griffin, undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, that Fort Drum is the current favored location if an East Coast Continental United States interceptor site is built.
Elise M. Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, who announced the decision, was enthusiastic about the proposal and confident she would be able to lead the charge in Congress to get the project built. If she is, Fort Drum would join Fort Greely, Alaska, and Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. as third continental interceptor sites.
The letter names Fort Drum as a possible site, if necessary, however it also explicitly says that the there is no recommendation for a third site at this time. While military and elected officials praised the decision, they generally added the caveat that the project would be beneficial for Fort Drum — if recommended by the Department of Defense.
“Fort Drum and the 10th Mountain Division are fortunate to have an advocate like Congresswoman Elise Stefanik seeking opportunities for future sustainment here,” Maj. General Brian J. Mennes, commander of Fort Drum and 10th Mountain Division said in a statement. “I admire her tireless work ethic and appreciate her steadfast support for this project that would benefit both Fort Drum and the North Country community should the Department of Defense identify it as a requirement.”
Sens. Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten E. Gillibrand, D-N.Y. both agreed that Drum would be the ideal location for the system, but did not advocate explicitly for building it — unlike Ms. Stefanik.
“I’ve always said, hands down, Fort Drum is the best place to locate a third missile defense site should the final military analysis conclude it is necessary,” Sen. Schumer said in a statement. “The North Country’s existing infrastructure, human capital, capacity to integrate new personnel and community support make it an ideal location.”
Sen. Gillibrand echoed the sentiment.
“Fort Drum has proven itself to be an invaluable asset to our country’s national defense, and as the Pentagon looked to expand its missile defense capabilities to the East Coast, Fort Drum offered the best capabilities for the nation,” Sen. Gillibrand said in a statement. “If we are to add an East Coast missile intercept site, Fort Drum is the obvious choice ... and I stand ready to do everything in my power to ensure that any new military investments benefit the entire North Country community.”
Ultimately it will be Congress that decides whether to move ahead, but Undersecretary Griffin’s letter was less than enthusiastic about the project.
“At this time, and by a small margin, Fort Drum would be the preferred CIS in the eastern United States,” the letter reads. “However, since the Department’s 2019 Missile Defense Review determined there is no operational requirement for an East Coast CIS, the Department has no intent to develop one.”
The letter goes on to say that if an East Coast CIS is deemed necessary, the decision to select Fort Drum would be re-evaluated based on the circumstances at the time.
The 2019 Missile Defense Review Executive Summary does outline a possible future need to increase the number of ground based interceptors.
“The United States may decide to increase further the capacity of the (ground based system) force beyond the currently planned force size of 64 GBIs,” the summary reads. “The missile base in Ft. Greely, Alaska, has the potential for up to an additional 40 interceptors. In addition, building a new
GBI interceptor site in the continental United States would add interceptor capability against the potential expansion of missile threats to the homeland, including a future Iranian ICBM capability.”
The Missile Defense Agency did not return a request for comment on the kind of circumstances that would suggest a need for an expansion.