Pentagon leaders are looking at options to bolster missile defense capabilities in the continental United States, including the establishment of a missile shield on the East Coast, a top military commander said on Wednesday.
The creation of an East Coast missile shield was one of many issued being hashed out as part of the so-called “hedge strategy” being worked inside the Pentagon, according to Strategic Command chief Gen. Bob Kehler.
The strategy, mandated by Congress, will help weigh the department’s options on whether to expand the current, limited anti-missile capabilities already in place across the United States, Kehler said during a speech in Washington.
Work on the study and the East Coast option is still in the preliminary stages, according to Kehler.
That said, the immediate need for the creation of a wide-spanning missile defense shield on the East Coast still “remains to be seen,” the four-star general said.
Many House GOP lawmakers are convinced the East Coast shield is critical to defending America’s shores, and the House approved legislation earlier this month that required the creation of an East Coast missile defense system in the United States by the end of 2015. The full House approved the plan on May 18.
Though slammed by House Democrats as an “East Coast Star Wars fantasy base,” the shield was folded into the House defense budget bill and passed by the full chamber on a vote of 299-120.
The notion of a second U.S. missile shield did not generate the same support on the Senate side. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), ranking member on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he was “skeptical�? about the necessity of the site.
That disconnect could set up a showdown over the missile defense site and the overall defense budget bill when the two chambers meet later this year to draft a compromise version of the legislation.
But the rapidly evolving missile threat to America’s shores from rogue states such as Iran, North Korea and others demands the United States have a plan in place just in case those threats become reality, Kehler explained.
Kehler’s command already oversees the limited missile defense capability already in place across the country, including the anti-missile systems already established on the West Coast.
Those systems were tailored to address the specific threat coming from North Korea, particularly against potential targets in Hawaii, Alaska and the western coastline of the country, Kehler said.
However, ongoing efforts by Iran and others to build long-range missile systems with the ability to strike inside the United States has forced the Pentagon’s hand to come up with a new plan.