Report: Annual missile defense spending could double in seven years

The annual cost of the Bush administration's missile defense plans could more than double to $19 billion by 2013, and total $247 billion from 2006 through fiscal 2024, according to a recent report.

The report, "The Long-Term Implications of Current Defense Plans and Alternatives: Detailed Update for Fiscal Year 2006," was produced by the Congressional Budget Office and released this month as an update to a September 2004 report.

The study projects an average $13 billion per year cost for missile defense through 2024.

The administration requested about $8.5 billion for the program last year for the current fiscal 2006, according to the report. The annual cost should climb rapidly to $19 billion by 2013, due to major equipment purchases, before dropping significantly to about $8 billion annually by 2024, it says. All figures are in 2006 dollars.

The projections factor the anticipated costs for development, procurement, operation and maintenance of most major Bush administration missile defense initiatives. Administration officials have said they are pursuing a "layered" approach to missile defense, which involves developing multiple technological approaches to striking various ballistic missiles from land, sea, air and possibly space.

The report's projections also incorporate an assumption for the unexpected cost growth of the systems under development, based on historic cost-growth rates for major weapons systems since the Vietnam War.

Without factoring historic cost growth, the report says, the average annual cost would be $10 billion, with a peak at $15 billion in 2013, and an overall cost of $190 billion overall through 2024.

The report incorporates potential costs for the following major systems: Ground-based Midcourse Defense system interceptors and radars; nine low-orbit, infrared Space Tracking and Surveillance System satellites; a boost-phase kinetic energy interceptor system; seven Airborne Laser 747 aircraft; additional Patriot Advanced Capability 3 (PAC-3) short-range missile defense systems; and Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense System (THAAD) components.

The report also includes costs for the sea-based Aegis missile defense system under development, and space-based and mobile ground-based interceptor systems that are under early consideration. It does not, however, factor the Air Force's SBIRS-High early warning satellites, which are intended for nonmissile defense uses as well, and does not specify how many ground-based, space-based, or sea-based systems it assumes will be purchased.

Victoria Samson, a Center for Defense Information missile defense analyst who released an analysis of the report last week, said she believes the report underestimates the probable cost of the administration's plans. "If they did everything they wanted to, reports have estimated it could run over a trillion dollars," she said, citing a 2003 report by prominent economists that drew such a conclusion.

The projected growth for missile defense costs corresponds with substantial overall Defense Department cost increases, according to the CBO report. Military funding reached $509 billion in fiscal 2005, including $74 billion in supplemental funding, it says.

It says the annual total could average about $522 billion a year through 2011 and $563 billion per year from 2012 through 2024, if historical cost growth and military expenditures to fight terrorists abroad are factored. That estimate, though, appears to assume that supplemental appropriations for U.S. military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq will end in fiscal 2006.

Congress last year pushed back against missile defense budget cost growth, with key senior lawmakers saying the Defense Department would need to reduce some of its ambitions. The report says if the Defense Department chooses to buy no additional missile defense systems, but instead only invests in research and development, it could spend an average $3 billion through 2024.

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