The Camp Ethan Allen Training Site in Jericho has been identified by the Department of Defense as one of five potential locations on the East Coast for mid-range missiles in the nation’s midcourse interceptor program. The missiles are designed to intercept incoming enemy missiles carrying warheads.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., told the media about the Pentagon’s plans after the Department of Defense’s Missile Defense Agency made the announcement to the Senate’s Defense Appropriations Subcommittee (the Pentagon’s budget committee).
Leahy is highly critical of the program and opposes the basing of the missiles in Vermont.
“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,” Leahy said.
The Pentagon must conduct a study “to validate or invalidate the requirement for an East Coast ballistic missile defense location,” according to Leahy’s office. Part of that study, which will be conducted before the end of the year, would include an environmental impact statement.
All three members of the state’s congressional delegation and the governor support the basing of the Air Force F-35 fighter jet with the Vermont Air National Guard at Burlington International Airport, but none of the political officials support the missile base.
Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., ridiculed the idea. “This is absurd,” Welch said in a statement. “It’s the wrong location for a bad idea and dead on arrival.”
“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,” Sen. Bernie Sanders said in a statement.
Gov. Peter Shumlin chimed in. “Vermonters are well-served by our federal delegation’s thoughtful involvement and deep experience in these issues, and I agree with Senator Leahy, Senator Sanders, and Congressman Welch,” Shumlin said in a statement.
Camp Ethan Allen, a Vermont National Guard base, may or may not be included in the list of locations that would be studied under an EIS, Leahy’s office says. Defense officials said an EIS would take 18 to 24 months to complete.
The other four sites identified as possible locations for the missile program include: Camp Ravenna Joint Military Training Center, Ohio; NAS Portsmouth SERE Training Area, Maine; Fort Custer CTC, Michigan; and Fort Drum, New York.
According to Leahy spokesman David Carle, no decision has been made to deploy more interceptor sites in the United States. “Based on the fiscal 2013 defense authorizing law, the Pentagon is required to conduct a study to validate or invalidate the requirement for an East Coast ballistic missile defense location, and part of that study, which will be completed before the end of this year, will be to identify the possible locations for consideration under an Environmental Impact Study if the basic requirement for a site is validated. By virtue of this announcement, Camp Ethan Allen may, or may not, be included in that list of locations for further study under an EIS,” Carle wrote in an email.
Camp Ethan Allen was selected as one of the potential sites for the interceptor missile base because it met operational criteria, according to Rick Lehner, spokesman for the Missile Defense Agency. The Vermont National Guard property has adequate acreage, access to transportation, water and electricity, Lehner said.
All five of the proposed sites fall within a certain line across the United States, Lehner said, that would maximize the effectiveness of an interceptor missile. U.S. Northern Command and the Missile Defense Agency determined that the five sites announced on Thursday are strategic locations for attacking ballistic missiles that could be fired from Iran or North Korea, he said.
In theory, the trajectory of such an attack would place the Vermont base in a strategic position to shoot down any incoming missiles that might be targeted for New York City or Washington, D.C., defense officials said.
A report from Reuters quotes a defense department official saying “there is no money in the Pentagon’s future budget plans for such a site.” No decision has been made to build an additional site for missile interceptors, according to Madelyn Creedon, assistant secretary of defense for global strategic affairs.
Creedon told Reuters that military officials are concerned about sequestration cuts that could limit the number of interceptors at an existing base for mid-range missiles in Alaska. The cost for a new base would be “extraordinarily expensive,” she said, between $1 billion and $5 billion.
The Department of Defense has two missile interceptor bases — one in California and another in Alaska. Congress mandated that the Department conduct a study to consider another site in the lower 48 states.
Col. Michael Heston, Deputy Adjutant General of the Vermont National Guard said in a statement that “a small team of DoD personnel will conduct surveys to assess the infrastructure to include electric power supply, water resources, and transportation access of the location.”
The Missile Defense Agency plans to identify three new sites where a formal Environmental Impact Statement will be conducted to ultimately identify a preferred location.
Chris Hurd, one of the opponents of the F-35 basing proposal for the Burlington International Airport, said he was relieved that Leahy opposes the missile basing proposal. The senator has been a staunch supporter of the F-35 fighter basing plan for the Vermont Air Guard in South Burlington.
“Militarizing Vermont is not what most Vermonters want,” Hurd said. “This country spends 57 percent of its discretionary income on the military at a time when people are losing homes and starving. It’s time to change that equation. To me, it’s just shocking the amount of money spent on the military. These are banana republic type of numbers. Vermont is better than this we have to have a voice.”
Roseanne Greco, a retired Air Force colonel and a South Burlington city councilor who has opposed the F-35 proposal, said the congressional delegation’s push for the new generation of fighter planes would make Vermont a military target. She said a missile defense site in Jericho would have the same effect.
Separately, The Jerusalem Post reported that the U.S. military conducted its first test of Lockheed Martin Corp.’s THAAD missile defense system, intercepting two medium-range ballistic missiles fired nearly simultaneously in the western Pacific.
This article was updated at 1:12 p.m. Thursday and 6:15 a.m. Friday.