Shot Down

By Thomas Duffy / March 23, 2009 at 5:00 AM

Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-CA) spoke this morning at a conference co-sponsored by the Missile Defense Agency and the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. And if you were there and you are a supporter of the Airborne Laser program, you didn't have a good morning.

After calling for tighter missile defense testing requirements and the need to shift MDA back into the Pentagon's normal acquisition process, Tauscher -- who last week accepted Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's offer to become under secretary of state for arms control and international security -- set her sights on the “tough budget choices” facing Congress and the Defense Department. Both Congress and DOD have avoided these choices over the years when dealing with certain weapon systems, she said, noting that this year will be different. And what program did she use as an example? The ABL.

Noting that the program is eight years behind schedule and $4 billion over cost, Tauscher said ABL is the definition of insanity -- doing the same thing over and over despite failing each time.

Supporters of the program are trying to ride to its rescue, though. Today, seven House members sent a letter to Defense Secretary Robert Gates asking him to support ABL. Noting they are concerned about reports that ABL will suffer a severe cut or even termination in the fiscal year 2010 budget, the lawmakers told Gates that ABL is “critical to the future of our national security capabilities.”

They lay out their case near the end of the letter:

The ABL is performing well and is scheduled to shoot down a boosting ballistic missile by the end of the year. Should the ABL be severely under-funded or canceled, the promise of speed-of-light and extreme precision in the hands of the warfighter will disappear, as will the fragile industrial base that supports it. In short, we will have wasted the resources that have been well invested since the Clinton administration.

The letter was signed by Reps. Norm Dicks (D-WA), Trent Franks (R-AZ), Todd Akin (R-MO), Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), Todd Tiahrt (R-KS), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), and, Buck McKeon (R-CA).