Sep 19 2016

AL.com: Funding Alabama-based defense systems is vital to American security

Last week North Korea tested a nuclear weapon for the second time this year – the fifth overall and its largest one to date. Alabamians and all Americans were reminded of the growing threat to our homeland that is posed by this rouge nation. Alongside nuclear tests, North Korea is also improving its launch capabilities that increase the threat to the U.S. homeland, deployed Americans living abroad and our allies.

North Korea's continued expansion of its nuclear and missile programs underscores the critical need for the United States to fully fund and expand our missile defense systems, which are developed and improved in Alabama.

North Korea is currently working to create a nuclear warhead small enough to fit on a missile while simultaneously testing the missiles that would carry those weapons. Specifically, they are working to advance long-range missiles to reach the United States, in addition to road-mobile launch systems and submarine-launch capabilities, which are both much more difficult to detect and require more resources to monitor. Launches from a trailer are uniquely concerning because they enable North Korea to launch a missile from their eastern coast on short notice, shortening the range to the U.S. by hundreds of miles.

In light of the clear signal that North Korea does not plan to back down from its nuclear weapons program, the United States must continue to make missile defenses a national priority.

The Ground-based Midcourse Defense system, a capability of the Huntsville-based Missile Defense Agency, is essential to the ballistic missile defense system that defends our country. Without it, the United States would be completely vulnerable to missile attack.

Despite its critically important role in protecting our nation, GMD funding has been severely cut by the Obama administration. The president's first budget slashed funding for the system roughly in half. Fortunately, under the leadership of MDA Director Vice Admiral James Syring, and with the expertise of the impressive workforce of the Huntsville-based Boeing team, the system is performing well in spite of the funding cuts and conducted a successful flight test earlier this year. However, full support for GMD must be restored if we expect it to fulfill its technical potential.

In order to meet the evolving threat, GMD must continually improve in accuracy and reliability with a better kill vehicle. In order to reach this vital goal, GMD must get the support it needs to be successful from Congress and the Administration.

Troy, Alabama, is also home to the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense missile production facility, which is another valuable system that can protect Americans and our allies from a North Korean nuclear weapon. THAAD missiles would help protect Americans citizens currently living in South Korea, including deployed military.

Unfortunately, one of President Obama's senior advisors indicated last week that the United States may not utilize THAAD if North Korea "changed its behavior." In light of North Korea's recent nuclear tests, mobilizing THAAD - a proven, reliable, and invaluable component to defense of the Korean Peninsula - is clearly more responsible and wise than merely relying upon the administration's wishful thinking. This administration has treated THAAD like GMD, subjecting them both to budget levels that too often prioritize politics and messaging over building defensive capabilities and meeting emerging threats.

As North Korea continues to expand its nuclear weapon program, Alabama plays an important role in protecting the United States' interests at home and abroad. With a firm commitment to systems like GMD and THAAD, the United States and our allies have the opportunity to rely upon Alabama-based defense systems to keep us safe from North Korea's increased threats.