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Fort Drum makes official shortlist of potential East Coast missile sites

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Fort Drum was picked as one of five sites by the Missile Defense Agency for further study as a potential East Coast missile defense site.

Joining the post on the short list are Camp Ethan Allen, Vt.; Camp Ravenna Joint Military Training Center, Ohio; Naval Air Station Portsmouth SERE Training Area, Maine; and Fort Custer Training Center, Mich.

No decision has been made by the Department of Defense about the creation of an East Coast site. Richard Lehner, a Missile Defense Agency spokesman, said 457 sites were considered before the release of the five-site short list Thursday.

Fort Drum has been seen as a favorite in the site selection process by some observers due to the funding approved for the placement of a missile defense data terminal complex in the 2013 fiscal year defense authorization bill. The only other locations with such terminals — Fort Greely, Alaska, and Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. — are also the only two domestic sites with missiles.

However, the agency has said that a terminal does not guarantee the placement of a site.

Construction of the terminal is under way, and is scheduled to finish by fall 2015.

A search for sites has been taking place for months, following a requirement in last year’s defense spending bill.

“In response to a congressional requirement, we are evaluating several sites in the continental United States for a potential future deployment of additional ground-based Interceptors, or GBIs,” said Navy Vice Adm. James D. Syring, director of the Missile Defense Agency, in a statement released Thursday afternoon by the Pentagon. “While the administration has not made a decision to build another missile defense facility in the U.S. for homeland defense, if a decision were to be made in the future to construct a new site, completing the required site study and environmental impact statement would shorten the timeline required to build such a site.”

The press release said that completing the mandatory siting study and the associated environmental impact statement would decrease the time necessary to build a site if a decision is made to do so. It also said an environmental impact study would take 18 to 24 months to complete once the siting study is finished,

A small Defense Department team will visit each site to obtain information on basic infrastructure, including the electrical power supply, water resources, transportation access and other areas for assessing the suitability of a potential site. Mr. Lehner, the agency’s spokesman, said no timetable was finalized for the team’s visit, but it would be this fall.

Maj. Gen. Stephen J. Townsend, commander of the 10th Mountain Division and Fort Drum, said in June that he was waiting for the site study’s completion before giving his opinion about the placement of missiles.

Rep. William L. Owens, D-Plattsburgh, in a statement on Thursday said he is “pleased the Missile Defense Agency has selected Fort Drum for a suitability study and I will continue fighting for all community-supported programs that expand the mission at Fort Drum.” He added the selection was “a positive step in a process that will play out over the next several years.”

U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a statement that he was pleased with the post’s selection, and that it could create thousands of jobs and significant revenue for the area.

“As long as military experts determine that a new missile defense system on the East Coast is necessary, workable and cost-effective, I will continue to urge the Department of Defense to consider Fort Drum for the job,” his statement read.

Though sites in Vermont and Maine have been discussed previously, the sites in Ohio and Michigan had not received much attention prior to the release of the short list. Not included in the list was the former Griffiss Air Force Base, Rome, which had been speculated as one potential site.

The allocation of new funding to support such a development is under debate as a part of the 2014 defense authorization bill.

Proponents of a third missile site say it will help protect the country from attacks from North Korea and Iran, and locally would create new jobs. Opponents have questioned the potential billions of dollars in costs for such a development and the efficacy of the missile technology that would be deployed at such a site.

Adm. Syring, in a June letter to Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., said there was no need to deploy an eastern site and there are cheaper short-term alternatives than a new missile location.

“While a potential East Coast site would add operational capability, it would also come at significant materiel development and service sustainment cost.”

Adm. Syring’s letter can be found at www.scribd.com/doc/147403686/Syring-Letter

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