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Fort Drum picked as site for east coast missile defense

Updated: Jun. 26, 2019 at 9:06 PM EDT
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WATERTOWN, N.Y. (WWNY) - If the military ever builds an east coast missile defense, it will be built at Fort Drum.

Whether that day ever comes is very much an open question.

North country congresswoman Elise Stefanik announced Wednesday night that the Department of Defense has picked Drum as its preferred location for an east coast missile defense site. The department said it picked Drum “by a small margin.”

A missile defense site would mean hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars for the north country.

“I have been in conversation with the Department of Defense for years and over the past couple of months I’ve really increased the pressure in conversations with senior-level administration officials,” Stefanik said Wednesday evening.

“This is huge news for the north country. I’m proud to have led this effort.”

However, the designation does not guarantee the missile defense site will be built - far from it.

The letter from the Defense Department to the Armed Services Committee (Stefanik is a member of the committee) designating Fort Drum also emphasizes: “since the Department’s 2019 Missile Defense Review determined there is no operational requirement for an East Coast CIS, the Department has no intent to develop one.”

Stefanik said Wednesday night that congress will push the military to build the site.

“We’ve really had to push them on the need for an east coast missile defense site,” she said. “So we will push them to appropriate the funds necessary to start the construction of the site.”

Stefanik said the project will take years.

Missile defense is controversial; the idea is to fire a missile that would knock down an enemy missile before it could land or explode. It has been likened to trying to hit a bullet with a bullet, and it has a very mixed record after years of testing.

But supporters, including Stefanik, continue to argue missile defense is a valuable deterrent.

“It is a good investment,” she said. “When you look at the increasing investment in ballistic missile technology from Iran, you look at the missile program in North Korea, we have adversaries that are making significant investments in their ballistic missile capabilities, so it’s important from my perspective to make sure that we have as much missile defense as is necessary to protect our national security.”

In its letter to the Armed Services Committee, the Department of Defense compares four east coast sites - Drum; two at Fort Custer, Michigan; Camp Garfield, Ohio. It concludes ""Fort Drum provides the best operational coverage, but is likely the most expensive option with the most environmental challenges."

The letter also leaves room for the Defense Department to change its mind:

“Should a requirement for an east coast CIS emerge, the decision would be re-evaluated and additional analysis based on updated performance, the evolving threat and the fact-of-life changes to the ballistic missile system would be accomplished.”

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