NATIONAL DEFENSE AUTHORIZATION ACT FOR FISCAL YEAR 1998 (Senate - July 10, 1997)

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The Senator from New Mexico [Mr. Bingaman] proposes an amendment numbered 799.

Mr. BINGAMAN. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that reading of the amendment be dispensed with.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.

The amendment is as follows:

At the end of subtitle A of title X, add the following:

SEC. 1009. INCREASED AMOUNTS FOR AIR FORCE AND NAVY FLYING HOURS.

(A) Increase.--Notwithstanding any other provision of this Act, the amount authorized to be appropriated under section 301(2) is hereby increased by $59,000,000, and the amount authorized under section 301(4) is hereby increased by $59,000,000.

(b) Decrease.--Notwithstanding any other provision of this Act, the total amount authorized to be appropriated to be appropriated under section 201(4) is hereby decreased by $118,000,000.

Mr. BINGAMAN. Mr. President, as I indicated, the bill that we have before us adds $118 million to what is called the space-based laser readiness demonstrator program. That funding level represents 5 years' worth of the planned space-based laser funding--planned by the Pentagon. In order to sustain the program at this increased level, which the committee has reported here, would require an additional expenditure of somewhere between $200 million and $300 million a year, which is more than 10 times what is planned for future budgets.

Mr. President, let me try to demonstrate the difference that I am talking about with this chart.

This chart tries to lay out between now and the year 2005 the current rate--which is in green here on this chart--the current rate of funding, cumulative funding, that is requested for this space-based laser activity by the Pentagon, and the yellow in this chart is what the committee would propose to begin adding.

Now, we do not do all of that. This is a 1-year defense authorization bill. We just add $118 million to the $29 million that the Pentagon requested the first year. But if you take the best figures that have been given us and say we are going to have an additional $200 million a year added, so you put the cumulative amount there, you can see that the total amount by the year 2005 is a very substantial figure.

The larger context for considering this space-based laser program involves four basic questions. Let me briefly go through each of those. First of all, what is a space-based laser ? People need to understand something about that, and I will try to explain it. Second, how would a space-based laser fit into the U.S. plan for a national missile defense? Third, is there a threat that warrants or justifies developing and deploying a space-based laser ? And finally, No. 4, would it be affordable for us to do so? Would it be cost effective for us to do so?

Let me try to explain first what a space-based laser is and then answer each of these other questions.

Mr. President, the space-based laser , which is the subject of this amendment, is technology that was born in the early days of the Strategic Defense Initiative, SDI. For those who have followed this set of issues over the last decade or so, they will remember the star wars proposals that we debated on the floor. The crown jewel of that star wars program was the space-based laser . It held out the promise of tens of satellites constantly orbiting the Earth ready to zap the hundreds upon hundreds of Soviet nuclear ballistic missiles that were launched from land and sea both.

The idea behind the space-based laser is that we would orbit a group of perhaps 20 or perhaps more very large satellites. Each satellite would be in the range of 80,000 pounds and each of them would be equipped with a chemical laser on the satellite. The chemical laser would produce a beam of very high-energy laser light that would then be focused very carefully with a very huge mirror so that the laser beam could be focused on missiles when they were first launched. That was the idea of getting up in space , so that you could zap a missile when they first launched it. You didn't have to wait until the missile actually came near your territory.

This would require having equipment on the satellite capable of detecting and tracking and pointing the laser at a relatively small object some 1,300 kilometers away over a long enough period of time to permit the laser energy to destroy the missile.

The satellites are so large, the satellites contemplated in this program of space-based lasers are so large and so heavy, we would have to design and build an entire new series of heavy space -launch vehicles with enough lifting power to get one of these huge payloads, 40 tons, into space --80,000 pounds, 40 tons. There is today no rocket, there is no space -launch vehicle currently in our inventory that can boost such a large payload into space .

The cost of building such a booster would represent a significant part of the cost of any space-based laser system. The space-based laser readiness demonstrator which we would fund or begin to fund with the $118 million provided in the bill is meant to demonstrate that the many technologies that are required in order to accomplish what I have just described can be met and overcome. The demonstrator would be a reduced size system with all the necessary technology and parts to make all the components work together at the same time.

This would presumably cost several billion dollars to find out the answers to these questions. The money does not exist anywhere in the Pentagon's budget plan for this coming year or the next 5 years, or the out years even after that. So, clearly that money would have to come from other defense programs.

I should point out that this chart, which takes us through the year 2005, does not get us to actual deployment, or development even of a space-based laser . This only gets us to the development of this demonstrator, which I think, as I indicated, is a half-size replica of what we would actually be talking about developing at some future date.

The second question I mentioned, which needs to be dealt with, is, how does this space-based laser fit into our National Missile Defense Program? The United States is developing a National Missile Defense System to defend against a small Third World nation ICBM program, an intercontinental ballistic missile program that has not emerged yet and is not, in fact, expected to emerge for another 15 years. But we are developing that program. The National Missile Defense Program is designed to be compliant with the ABM Treaty, although it remains to be seen whether we might need to change or propose changes or withdraw from that treaty at some time in the future.

There is no U.S. plan to deploy a space-based laser system, and we know of no justification today for doing so. That is why the Pentagon has asked merely to continue with research and development funding in this area.

Furthermore, the cost of deploying such a system would be enormous. The existing National Missile Defense System Program involves developing a ground-based missile interceptor capability which is very different from a space-based laser . The ground-based defense system just had its development cost increased from $2.3 to $4.6 billion. The administration requested that increase.

Our committee is proposing that the Senate go along with that increase. We are adding $474 million to this year's defense bill in order to do that, and nothing in our amendment that I am talking about here would affect that at all. But the cost to deploy the National Missile Defense System last year was pegged at about $10 billion. When you add to that the space and missile tracking system, you get another $5-or-so billion. So we are already planning on paying something in the order of $17 billion for the limited National Missile Defense System that is designed to stop a handful of rogue missiles coming into this country. As I said before, we have no plan, however, to pay the additional tens of billions of dollars to actually develop and deploy a space-based laser .

The third question that I cited when I began my comments is, is there a threat that this country faces to our national security, a threat that would justify developing and deploying the space-based laser ? The National Missile Defense System that we are developing today that I just described is meant to defend against a handful of these ICBM's that might be launched at some future date by some rogue nation, if they develop the capability to do that. According to the administration, there is no significant ballistic missile threat being faced by the United States today.

North Korea is the only nation considered to be actively trying to develop such a missile. But the North Korean economy is in terrible shape. Their own military, according to the best information we have, is going hungry in some cases. The Defense Intelligence Agency publicly stated that their country is--I believe they used the phrase `probably terminal.' Neither Russian nor Chinese strategic missiles are considered a threat today because neither nation has a plausible reason to attack the United States. And, of course, we maintain an overwhelming nuclear deterrent capability, which we should maintain.

The United States and Russia have detargeted their ICBM's and their SLBM's, which means that no accidental launch could be expected from either territory toward the other country. So this is not a threat situation that requires a space-based laser . This is not a threat situation that requires rapid and expensive development of this so-called readiness demonstrator, as this accelerated program is referred to.

The final issue I wanted to mention is the issue of cost. Is the space-based laser either affordable or cost effective? Last year's Defend America Act, as proposed but not as enacted, included a requirement for space-based lasers . That was a primary factor that led the Congressional Budget Office to estimate the cost of the system at up to $60 billion to procure and up to an additional $120 billion to operate it over the next 30 years.

The Department of Defense stated recently that CBO's cost estimates may have been too low and that the cost of building and launching a space-based laser system is almost certainly higher than those figures. One reason for the high cost, as I mentioned in describing a space-based laser , is the cost of launching the heavy laser systems into space . We need a heavy-lift booster that does not exist today. It would be very expensive to develop. The cost of such a system is totally outside the realm of the current budget or the planned defense budgets. This would not be affordable, and it is not likely that it is cost effective against the limited emerging ballistic missile threat. The current program is designed to handle any foreseeable limited ballistic missile attack from a rogue nation.

The Department of Defense has recently doubled the cost estimate for the development program, as I mentioned, and there is no plan to deploy even that ground-based missile interceptor system today unless and until a real threat emerges. If such a deployment is warranted, obviously we will have to spend substantially more. But none of the deployment funds are planned in any future defense budget even for the ground-based missile defense system, the missile interceptor system that I described.

DOD has no plans to fund the space-based laser program at the much higher levels that are proposed in this defense bill. DOD clearly has higher priorities. We need to protect those higher priorities and not pass a bill here which commits us or which starts us down the road toward spending money on programs that the Department of Defense has not requested.

The bottom line is that we are nowhere near deploying a space-based laser . There is no need for us to do so. The administration already has a very expensive National Missile Defense Development Program underway. And unless this amendment that we are offering here this evening is adopted, the Senate will be putting five times as much money into the space-based laser program as the administration has requested in 1998, and we will be starting down the road to developing a demonstrator and eventually a space-based laser program that will be hugely expensive and of very marginal value to our national security.

So I urge my colleagues to support the amendment. At this point, I yield the floor. I suggest the absence of a quorum, if there is nobody else wishing to speak at this point.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. The clerk will call the roll.

The assistant legislative clerk proceeded to call the roll.

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Mr. BINGAMAN. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the order for the quorum call be rescinded.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.

Mr. BINGAMAN. Mr. President, let me just add a couple of items that I overlooked, since we have just another couple of minutes here before the vote occurs.

As I indicated in describing the amendment, we are suggesting that the $118 million which we are trying to delete from the bill for the space-based laser program be, instead, transferred over for Air Force and Navy flying hours. The reason I have offered that suggestion is a letter from the Secretary of Defense to Senator Levin, and I am sure Senator Thurmond also received a copy of it. The letter is dated the 23d of May. Former Senator Cohen, now Secretary Cohen, stated in this letter:

In addition to adjustments reflective of the Quadrennial Defense Review, I recommend a fact-of-life adjustment concerning flying hour costs. The Navy and the Air Force are both experiencing greater costs per flying hour than anticipated in their budgets. We are currently analyzing the causes of this increase, but the preliminary indications are that the increase is caused by greater spare parts requirements per flying hour than were experienced in the past. We estimate the impact of these increases to be $350 million for the Navy and $200 million for the Air Force.

So he has requested that we add the total of $550 million to the combined flying hours for the Air Force and the Navy. This amendment adds $59 million to the Air Force and $59 million to the Navy. Obviously, it does not meet the entire requirement as stated by the Secretary of Defense, but it moves us in the right direction.

So I do think this is a better use of the funds. It is a use that the Pentagon itself and the Secretary of Defense have indicated they support. For that reason, that is what we are suggesting be done with the funds.

Mr. President, let me also, before I yield the floor again, ask unanimous consent that Senator Dorgan be added as a cosponsor of this amendment.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.

Mr. BINGAMAN. Mr. President, I yield the floor.

Mr. CONRAD. Mr. President, I rise in support of the amendment offered by my friend from New Mexico, Senator Bingaman, which would cut the $118 million added to the bill for the space-based laser [SBL] program.

As my colleagues are aware, I have long supported development of a national missile defense system to protect our Nation from the threat of a limited accidental or unauthorized ICBM launch from an established nuclear power, and from the threat of attack from a rogue state, such as North Korea, Libya, and Iraq. To ensure that our NMD program makes good fiscal and national security sense, I believe that the system we develop must meet the common sense criteria of affordability, compatibility with our arms control treaties, and utilization of existing technology. These key tests provide a reliable guide for developing an affordable, responsible, and reliable means of countering the limited threat we will face early in the next century.

Although sometime in the next century we may do the NMD and theater missile defense missions from space , I do not believe that this is the time to invest $118 million in the SBL. This money would be much better spent if invested in promising missile defense systems we are very close to having today, such as the Minuteman-based NMD option, and the Airborne Laser TMD program of the U.S. Air Force.

I also do not believe we need to start a funding stream that would obligate us to spend more than $1 billion over the next 7 years to field only a single SBL demonstrator satellite. With the Minuteman and ABL systems becoming available, there is simply no reason to put us on a slippery slope toward an unnecessary operational SBL deployment that will surely cost tens of billions of dollars.

In addition to failing the affordability test, pressing forward with the SBL today represents a clear threat to arms control. As my colleagues may be aware, the ABM Treaty explicitly prohibits space-based missile defense systems, and the Russians have stated clearly their belief that development of such a capability by the United States would lead to a renewed arms race.

It is true that the $118 million in question would go toward development of a demonstrator SBL satellite, and that the ABM Treaty permits development of missile defense systems that would not be treaty compliant if operationally deployed. Nevertheless, development of such a capability would logically increase the likelihood of deployment of space weapons before they are necessary or wise. In light of the near-term, treaty-friendly NMD and TMD capability offered by the Minuteman and ABL systems, we would needlessly be putting our Nation on course to violate the ABM Treaty and re-ignite the arms race.

Finally, Mr. President, aggressive SBL development today fails the third key test I outlined earlier--utilization of existing technology. Although the SBL would leverage research done on the ABL, the SBL is still new, untested technology. We know much more about how lasers perform in our atmosphere than in space . We have also never deployed weapons in space .

Because of these considerations, we could expect costs to grow, testing and deployment schedules to slip, and reliability to be highly questionable. I hope my colleagues would agree that the ABL is a much better investment in laser-based missile defense systems. It will provide the same boost-phase intercept capability as the SBL nearer-term, at a lower cost, and without endangering our arms control agreements.

Before closing, Mr. President, I would also note on the subject of technology that even if we were to construct an SBL capability, its satellites would be too massive for any existing U.S. booster rocket to loft into orbit. The one American rocket that could have gotten the job done--the Saturn V that sent the Apollo astronauts to the Moon--was retired over two decades ago. As it stands, the only alternative to investing millions or billions more in a new heavy booster would be using Russian's Proton rocket. The fact that the SBL represents a clear threat to the ABM Treaty leads me to believe that our Russian friends would be far from eager to help us in this regard.

Mr. President, the SBL is a fascinating technology, and I commend the committee for their interest in what could several decades from now be the right answer to our missile defense needs. However, this is not the time for the SBL. The Minuteman and ABL systems are not only near-term, but meet the commonsense criteria of affordability, compatibility with our arms control agreements, and utilization of existing technology to an extent the SBL simply cannot. For this reason, I support the Bingaman amendment striking funding for the SBL, and urge my colleagues to support its adoption.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Who seeks recognition?

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