Lawmakers Question Obama's Missile Defense Cuts

Lawmakers are demanding to know why the president's proposed 2010 defense budget cuts missile defense by $1.2 billion and does not provide any funds for the European missile defense shield as Iran and North Korea defy the international community with missile testing.

Iran tested its longest-range missile to date last month, and North Korea in April took another step toward an intercontinental ballistic missile on the same day President Obama gave a speech in the Czech Republic touting U.S willingness to protect Europe and the United States from rogue missiles.

Under President Bush last year, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and then-Secretary Condoleezza Rice signed agreements with Poland and the Czech Republic to base interceptors and radar there, but now the Obama administration appears to be backtracking.

"I thought it was certain that the Poles and Czechs believe that it was a commitment we made," Sen. John McCain said Tuesday during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.

"We have not made a decision to go forward with that at this point," Deputy Defense Secretary William Lynn replied.

At Fort Greeley in Alaska, the missile defense silos can defend the U.S. from both North Korea and Iran, but the Obama budget would cuts the number of interceptor missiles based there from 44 to 30. And that has both Republicans and Democrats asking, why now?

"Is this being budget-driven?" Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., asked.

"The numbers don't add up to me," said Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., "I think it's just a question of somewhere somebody has decided to cut missile defense substantially, and you're doing the best you can under a difficult circumstance."

Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska said: "With North Korea, it seems since we've made this announcement, as I've said, 40 percent of their testing has occurred, plus an underground nuclear test. I mean, I don't know. That seems risky to me."

Asked the odds of shooting down a rogue missile using the current ground-based system in Alaska and California, Marine Corps Gen. James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff, said, "90 percent plus."

The European interceptors would provide an added layer of protection to the U.S. from potential Iranian missiles. But the Pentagon is now looking at basing the interceptors onboard ships, or mobile launchers at existing U.S. army bases in Europe. But that capability won't be ready for eight years, a former missile defense official said.

A recent Congressional Budget Office report found, "None of the alternatives considered by CBO provide as much additional defense of the United States."

Pentagon officials say if North Korea proceeds to develop its long-range missile capacity, they'll adjust the following year's budget requests, leaving many on Capitol Hill asking, why cut it in the first place.