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Pentagon nears decision on Fort Drum as East Coast missile defense site

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Members of Upstate New York’s congressional delegation are making a last-minute pitch to the Pentagon, asking military leaders to consider building a $3.6 billion missile interceptor site at Fort Drum.

The lobbying blitz comes as the Pentagon nears a decision in early March on whether the U.S. needs to build a new base to defend the East Coast from an intercontinental ballistic missile attack.

U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Willsboro, who represents Fort Drum and Northern New York, led a group of nine New York House members this week who asked military brass to consider Fort Drum for the interceptor site.

Among those signing a letter to Samuel A. Greaves, director of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency, were Reps. John Katko, R-Camillus, and Brian Higgins, a Democrat from Buffalo.

The New York House members touted “the economic advantage of building the site at Fort Drum,” saying the home of the Army’s 10th Mountain Division already has the infrastructure and community support needed for the project.

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The Pentagon is also considering military installations in Ohio and Michigan for a project expected to bring 1,450 jobs and $220 million per year in economic value to the community that hosts the interceptor base.

The military has been studying its options for strengthening U.S. missile defenses since May 2017, when Defense Secretary Jim Mattis ordered a Ballistic Missile Defense Review.

That review will recommend whether the U.S. should beef up its existing ground-based missile interceptor sites — at Fort Greely in Alaska and Vandenberg Air Force Base in California – and whether a third site is necessary to defend the East Coast.

If a third site is recommended, the Pentagon would likely decide within 60 days whether the new missile interceptor site should be built at Fort Drum, about 80 miles north of Syracuse.

The other sites under consideration are at Camp Ravenna Joint Training Center in Ohio, which is used by the Ohio Army National Guard, and Fort Custer Training Center in Michigan.

The Missile Defense Agency selected the three sites as finalists in 2016 after a two-year, nearly $6 million study that fulfilled a mandate from members of Congress who have been pushing for a third interceptor site to defend the East Coast.

But a final decision was put on hold in early 2017 after the election of President Donald Trump, who will ultimately decide with Mattis whether an East Coast missile defense site is worth the expense.

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The nation’s top generals in charge of missile defense have previously said a third site is not necessary to defend the East Coast, and that money would be better spent upgrading the existing interceptor sites in Alaska and California.

The ground-based interceptors have an inconsistent track record, successfully destroying only about half of incoming missiles in test firings.

U.S. Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., said they would support building a missile interceptor site at Fort Drum if the community wants the project and the Pentagon demonstrates a need.

Schumer, the Senate Democratic leader, said his backing would require that “military experts determine that a new system on the East Coast is necessary, workable and cost effective.”

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© 2018 Syracuse Media Group, N.Y.

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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