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FAIRBANKS (AP) — The number of interceptor missiles at Fort Greely could rise beyond the level announced earlier this year, depending on threats from other nations, the director of the Missile Defense Agency said.
In March, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said the Obama administration had decided to increase the number of missiles at Fort Greely to 44 in response to actions by North Korea.
But last week, the director of the Missile Defense Agency, Vice Admiral James Syring, told a U.S. Senate subcommittee that number could go higher as the department evaluates additional threats, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported. Fort Greely is near Delta Junction.
"The 44 is important; it addresses what we are seeing from North Korea today," he said in response to a question from Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, who serves on the panel. "What you’ll see is the department evaluate the need or the requirement to go beyond the 44 as we evaluate the threat from Iran and other nations like that."
Syring also was questioned by Murkowski about progress toward the expansion at Fort Greely, including the restoration of Missile Field 1, which the administration mothballed in 2011, with the additional ground-based interceptor missiles to be installed by 2017.
Syring said contracts for work could be released this summer.
"The first step is for us to complete on schedule the Field 1 refurbishment and to get those silos ready for the GBIs we’re going to buy," he said.
"There would be growth possibilities beyond that if we decided to go beyond 44 missiles; 44 gives us a roughly 50 percent increase in terms of the defense of our homeland, against a ballistic missile attack."
Murkowski reiterated her criticism of the decision to mothball Missile Field 1, calling it short-sighted. "My concern is that we not leave Greely at less than full capacity and capability," she said.
Last week’s hearing was related to the Missile Defense Agency’s request for about $7.7 billion for the next fiscal year. The budget request includes $51 million to continue radar work at Clear Air Force Station, near Anderson, Syring said.
Murkowski also asked Syring about an interceptor missile test failure earlier this month, the third straight such failure.
"We understand what the problem is through ground testing," Syring said.
"We’re confident it’s been completed and adequately addressed."
Another flight test is planned in March.