By Emelie Rutherford

Two senior lawmakers told Missile Defense Agency stakeholders yesterday more anti-missile capabilities are needed for protecting forward-deployed troops, yet said they will insist on thorough testing before advancing longer-term missile-defense systems.

Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and House Armed Services Strategic Forces subcommittee Chairwoman Ellen Tauscher (D-Calif.) both emphasized their support for missile-defense systems that counter short- and medium-range missiles during speeches at the Washington gathering.

"Patriot and the Aegis BMD system are already providing such protection, and THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) is expected to begin fielding soon; We will need more of these capabilities," Levin said about the traditional theater-missile-defense systems.

Tauscher–who is expected to leave Congress and become under secretary of state for arms control and national security–said because Iran has the largest force of short- and medium-ranged ballistic missiles in the Middle East, "our highest priority within the missile-defense budget should be providing our combatant commanders adequate and sufficient theater missile-defense capabilities."

"The threats of short- and medium-range missiles represent the main threat to our national security and to our allies; that’s what we should be focusing on," she said at the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) and American Institute for Aeronautics and Astronautics’ 2009 Missile Defense Conference.

Tauscher also said "we must seriously consider" upgrading more than 22 of the Navy’s Aegis warships to conduct ballistic-missile-defense operations.

Still, she warned "tradeoffs" likely will be made throughout the budget and "the overall funding for missile defense may be reduced."

She faulted Congress and the Pentagon for continuing missile-defense programs "regardless of cost increases or schedule delays," and singled out Boeing‘s [BA] Airborne Laser (ABL).

"The Airborne Laser, which is eight years behind schedule and $4 billion over budget, is an excellent example," she said. "It reminds me of the definition of insanity. You keep doing the wrong thing over and over again and don’t learn from it."

She said the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system has not been sufficiently tested, and rejected the argument that "the U.S. would be naked against an Iranian nuclear threat unless we deploy the GMD site in Europe."

"We need to have a greater degree of confidence that the GMD system will work before we make a decision to expand it," she said.

She noted a congressional provision prohibiting the Pentagon from acquiring or deploying operational GMD interceptors in Europe until the defense secretary certifies they work.

Regarding future investment, Tauscher said "we must make certain that the existing GMD system can conduct real-time combat operations."

Levin cited missile-defense efforts the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has criticized–the ABL, GMD, and Multiple Kill Vehicle.

The GAO, for example, could not assess the ABL’s design stability and reports none of its critical technologies are fully mature, Levin said.

He said a high price has been paid on those systems because of the failure to impose acquisition discipline, complete systems engineering tasks, perform appropriate developmental testing, and build and fully test prototypes.

Levin–who has filed extensive acquisition-reform legislation with SASC Ranking Member John McCain (R-Ariz.)–warned against acquiring "systems that haven’t been adequately tested and demonstrated."

"We need to bring MDA programs into compliance with acquisition measures that are designed to protect the taxpayers and ensure that the systems we field are fully tested and will actually work as intended," he said.

The senator said testing and evaluation must play a larger role in MDA programs.

He noted the Pentagon’s director of operations test and evaluation said two months ago that the GMD testing has not been sufficient enough to know if it will work as intended.

"That is a troubling evaluation of a system that has been deployed for more than four years," Levin said, adding: "At a minimum, I believe we need to demonstrate with flight tests a number of functions of the GMD system that are fundamental to its ability to work as intended."

He said those include "salvo testing with multiple interceptors against a single target, multiple simultaneous engagements using multiple interceptors against multiple targets, and at least one intercept test using the Cobra Dane radar as the battle management sensor."

Boeing yesterday issued a statement saying "GMD and ABL have both made tremendous and measurable progress over the past few years."

"GMD is the only operational capability to defend the United States against long-range ballistic missile threats, and ABL is on track for its missile shootdown demonstration this year," Boeing spokesman Marc Selinger said.

Meanwhile, House Appropriations Defense subcommittee members Norm Dicks (D-Wash.) and Todd Tiahrt (R-Kan.) joined five other House members yesterday in sending a letter seeking continued support for the ABL program to Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

"Should the ABL be severely under-funded or canceled, the promise of speed-of-light and extreme precision in the hands of the warfighter will disappear, as will the fragile industrial base that supports it," the letter says.

Levin and Tauscher both called yesterday for MDA to start adhering to the normal Pentagon acquisition process, spoke favorably about new MDA Director Army Lt. Gen. Patrick O’Reilly’s efforts regarding testing, and were optimistic about U.S.-Russia talks about collaborating on missile defense to protect from Iran.