MONTPELIER, Vt. — The Department of Defense is considering a Vermont National Guard base as the possible location of an anti-ballistic missile launch site that would help protect the East Coast from a missile attack from Iran or other threats.
The Vermont site is one of five from Ohio to Maine that will be evaluated by the Defense Department’s Missile Defense Agency as it considers building an interceptor base intended to shoot down ballistic missiles in mid-flight.
All five sites are on land owned by the federal government and are operated by the Defense Department or the National Guard.
No decision has been made to build the system, but the Pentagon is required to study the possible East Coast locations. Part of that study will be to identify the locations that would be looked at more closely.
The suggestion seemed to surprise the three members of Vermont’s congressional delegation, who first learned of the plan late Thursday morning.
“I’ve always felt that the multiple billions spent on missile defense are a monumental waste of money, on technologically challenged systems, and I am emphatically against putting one of these sites in Vermont,” said Democratic U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent, and Democrat Rep. Peter Welch are also skeptical of the proposal.
“My first impression is that this is a very bad idea and, for a wide variety of reasons, I do not believe that it will ever happen,” Sanders said.
Welch was more blunt: “This is absurd. It’s the wrong location for a bad idea and dead on arrival.”
If constructed, an undetermined number of the missiles would be made ready to respond in case of a missile attack against the U.S. Cost estimates range from $1 billion to $5 billion, including the cost of the missiles themselves.
Earlier this year, two top military officers involved in missile defense told U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., there was no “validated military requirement” to build the East Coast site.
In a June letter to Levin, Vice Admiral J.D. Syring, the director of the Missile Defense Agency, and Lt. Gen. Richard Formica, the commander of the Joint Functional Command for Integrated Missile Defense, said a better anti-missile investment would be improved sensors for other missile defense systems.
“While a potential East Coast site would add operational capability it would also come at significant materiel development and service sustainment cost,” said their June 10 letter.
But Gen. Charles Jacoby, Jr. the commander of the North American Aerospace Defense Command and United States Northern Command, said in testimony before Congress earlier this year that Iran would have the ability to flight test intercontinental ballistic missiles within the next few years.
“I would agree that a third site . would give me better weapons access, increased (ground based interceptor) inventory, and allow us the battle space to more optimize our defense against future threats from Iran and North Korea,” he said.
Vermont’s Ethan Allen Training Site in Jericho and Underhill is located in eastern Chittenden County on the western slope of the Green Mountains. The Maine location is at a Navy facility near Rangely. The other facilities that will be considered are Fort Drum, N.Y.; Camp Ravenna Joint Training Center, Ohio; and Fort Custer Training Center, Mich.
The Defense Department has been directed to create an East Coast interceptor site in response to a perceived threat from Iran. The East Coast location would complement land-based sites at Alaska’s Fort Greely and California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base.
A Defense Department team will visit sites 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.
The next step will be for the Missile Defense Agency to identify three new sites where a formal Environmental Impact Statement would be conducted to identify a preferred location.