Provisions in a House Armed Services Committee (HASC) strategic forces subcommittee defense authorization bill likely would provide ammunition for any legislators who might wish to cut funding for some ballistic missile defense (BMD) programs.

Programs affected would include the Airborne Laser (ABL) and the Kinetic Energy Interceptor (KEI), the two main efforts to kill enemy missiles in their most vulnerable phase, shortly after liftoff from a pad or silo, before the enemy weapon can emit multiple warheads or confusing chaff or decoys.

ABL and KEI, by annihilating an enemy missile in its boost phase, ensure that any materials from a weapon of mass destruction such as radioactive nuclear materials will fall on enemy territory.

As well, the HASC subcommittee bill also targets for limits on spending a U.S. plan to install a European Missile Defense (EMD) system in the Czech Republic (radar) and Poland (interceptors in silos). This would be a two-stage variant of the three-stage Ground-based Midcourse Defense system already installed in Alaska and California.

Also, no funds for EMD interceptors could be used until the secretary of defense, advised by the chief Pentagon weapons tester, certifies to Congress that they have demonstrated “through successful, operationally realistic flight testing, a high probability of working in an operationally effective manner and the ability to accomplish the mission” of killing enemy missiles, such as any that Iran might launch toward targets in Europe.

The language in the HASC subcommittee bill to authorize defense programs for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2009, spells out hurdles that ABL, KEI and EMD would have to surmount.

It commands the secretary of defense to retain a federally funded research center to perform multiple assessments of the BMD programs.

ABL and KEI capabilities would have to be measured against various scenarios. Some lawmakers, especially Democrats, have said BMD tests should be more complex and challenging. Also, operational effectiveness of the two boost-phase BMD systems would have to be assessed.

Results of their key milestone tests would have to be reviewed, including tests shooting down target missiles.

Survivability, sustainability, concept-of-operations aspects, operations and maintenance support, command and control, shortfall from intercepts, force structure requirements, effectiveness against countermeasures such as multiple independent reentry vehicles (MIRVs) — multiple warheads — and estimated cost of sustaining the systems in the field would have to be weighed.

Those reviews would have to consider as well the ability of each BMD system to counter short-, medium- and intermediate-range ballistic missile threats to deployed forces of the United States and its friends and allies from rogue states.

And reviews would have to assess the ability of each missile shield to defend U.S. territory against “limited ballistic missile attack.”

Democrats for more than a year have moved repeatedly to cut funding for programs such as ABL, KEI and EMD that aren’t as advanced as others, and thus would be easier to reduce.

ABL involves a heavily-modified 747-400 jumbo jet contributed by prime contractor The Boeing Co. [BA], a laser system by Northrop Grumman Corp. [NOC], and a beam control/fire control system to aim the laser by Lockheed Martin Corp. [LMT].

Those more advanced programs include the sea-based Aegis system by Lockheed and the interceptor Standard Missile-3 by Raytheon Co. [RTN], the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system (Lockheed), and the Ground-based Midcourse Defense system by Boeing.

They also include the Patriot PAC-3 system, and the Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS).

Essentially, this could provide lawmakers so inclined with an opportunity to say that if these reviews show that ABL, KEI and EMD aren’t more effective than the older systems such as Aegis, THAAD and the others, then why fund ABL, KEI and EMD?

Reviewers also would have to weigh ABL and KEI costs and benefits, a strategy for them going out five years (this would yield a bigger price tag on them so they could be more easily opposed), and any other matter that the reviewers deem appropriate, which could cover a lot of ground.

The reviewers’ report must be submitted to congressional defense committees by Jan. 31, 2010.