Ohio Officials Launch New Push For Missile Defense Site In Ravenna

Five men in army camouflage sit in a semi-circle, each at computer terminals, and screens overhead that show the earth.
Alaska National Guard members (shown here at Fort Greely, Alaska in May 2007) operate the ground-based midcourse defense portion of the Ballistic Missile Defense System. [Army Sgt. Jack W. Carlson III / Alaska Army National Guard / Flickr]
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Members of Ohio’s congressional delegation are renewing calls for the Defense Department to locate a missile defense site at Camp James A. Garfield, an Ohio National Guard base straddling Portage and Trumbull counties.

Earlier this week, both Ohio senators and nearly every House representative signed a letter addressed to Acting U.S. Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan urging him to consider the base for the third Continental United States Interceptor Site (CIS). 

“The Camp, and Northeast Ohio more broadly, benefit from access to a skilled workforce and numerous means of transportation,” the letter states. It goes on to say that the Ohio National Guard possesses one of the “most experienced forces of air defenders in the National Guard,” and that the CIS project would create 2,300 jobs.

“When you look at things like the Lordstown plant shutting down, in my head, I thought, ‘Hey we need something else, we need to get excited about a new project here,’” said Rep. Anthony Gonzalez.

The letter goes on to say that, under the National Defense Authorization Act, the Secretary of Defense must choose a preferred location for a potential third CIS site within 60 days of publishing the Ballistic Missile Defense Review. That review was published on January 17.

Gonzalez said that he expects the Pentagon to make a decision in the next few weeks. But Ian Williams, Deputy Director of the Missile Defense Project at the Center for Strategic & International Studies, said it could take much longer than that.

“I don’t see [the Department of Defense] making that decision without Congress insisting on it,”  Williams said. Otherwise, the Pentagon will likely keep “kicking the can down the road, for several more years at least.”

With a budget of about $9 billion, the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) is already stretched by competing priorities such as upgrades to existing systems and research into new technology. As such, the MDA may delay spending on launch sites unless Congress and the President come through with a mandate and funding to match. 

The MDA, which falls under the Department of Defense, and handles research and development for the country’s Ballistic Missile Defense System, currently has 44 ground-based interceptor missiles clustered at two sites in Alaska and California. The interceptors do not explode, but rather are designed to stop missiles headed toward the U.S. by crashing into them mid-flight.

Those locations give coverage to all 50 states, Williams said. And although a third site in Ohio would improve the quality of protection for the East Coast by adding a level of redundancy, “I think the MDA kind of looks at the East Coast site as a ‘would be nice,’ but not a ‘must have’ right now,” he said.

Williams said there are three main factors that influence whether the Pentagon decides to build a third site: (1) location (as in, does the location allow for effective deployment of defense missiles); (2) whether there is existing infrastructure (such as electric, housing, transportation) that would facilitate the operation; and (3) politics (how effective politicians are at lobbying for their state). 

As to the first two factors, Williams said that the base at Camp Garfield would put it in the running, but two other sites--at Fort Drum in New York and Fort Custer in Michigan--are also being considered. 

And as for the third factor, politics, Williams said it may take more than a letter. 

“You have a little bit of a rub between Congress wanting these sites, and the Pentagon not really wanting to spend the money … yet.”

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