Edwin J. Feulner: We at The Heritage Foundation have
devoted countless hours over the years to helping Americans
understand the importance of a missile defense system, from
extensive research over the decades to our 33 Minutes
documentary -- 33 minutes being the length of time it is estimated
between the launch from a rogue state and the time an oncoming
missile could hit the United States. We have provided the
leadership for America on this issue with arguments, facts, and
insights so that all Members of Congress and the American people
can follow the arguments.
In fact, it wasn't until President Ronald Reagan's Strategic
Defense Initiative speech in 1983 that the concept became a
household term. Since 2002, the U.S. has been vigorously
developing, testing, and deploying missile defense technology.
Over the past six years, the military has run 34 hit-to-kill
interceptor tests, almost all of them successful. Now, in the face
of a belligerent North Korea and an increasingly isolated Iran,
funding for the missile defense initiative has been slated to be
cut by $1.4 billion. While the world is changing, America and our
allies still need to be defended from these growing missile
Today, I'm very pleased to welcome a special guest to contribute
to this important national conversation. Senator Mark Begich was
elected to the U.S. Senate from the state of Alaska last November.
Before that, having been born and raised in Anchorage, he served on
the City Council of Anchorage; he served on numerous state
committees and commissions; and he served most recently before his
Senate service as mayor of Anchorage, which is Alaska's biggest
city. He has been on the Board of Regents of the university.
He knows the challenges facing Alaska very well. More important,
he serves on very significant committees: Commerce, Science and
Transportation, Veterans, and -- most important for today's
discussion, not only for Alaska, but for the entire United
States -- the Senate Armed Services committee.
We are particularly pleased he could join us today because, as
many of you know, right now, at this very moment on the Senate
floor, the Defense Authorization bill is being debated.
J. Feulner, Ph.D., is President of The Heritage
The Honorable Mark Begich: I sit as a Democrat from
Alaska on the Armed Services Committee. It's the first time anyone
from Alaska has been on that committee since 1968. It's a very
interesting time, and Alaska is a very different state. I was born
and raised there, and I know.
In my own caucus, first, they wonder why I'm here today talking
to your group. They wondered, "Are you sure you have the right
building?" I said, "Absolutely." But several other Democrats were
actually very supportive of me coming over.
I'm a Democrat that has a little different view. I come to the
Senate with a pro-defense, pro-gun, pro-development, pro-privacy
viewpoint. Alaskans are very libertarian in that area of privacy.
We're very strong on defense. We just had a vote, as a matter of
fact, on the Thune amendment, which was about concealed-carry laws
It was interesting because when the bill first came out, about
two or three months ago, I was presiding. Listening to Senator
Thune talk about this new piece of legislation, I thought, I like
that. So as he was finishing, I turned to the one of the pages. I
said, "Have him come up here." He came up, and I said, "I want to
cosponsor that legislation."
And this week, when he was preparing to present it, he says, "I
have a bipartisan support on this legislation." It was like 22
Republicans and me, so I felt I was carrying an incredible load on
my back and on my shoulders, but I felt good. We just took the
vote. It failed by just two votes. He had to get 60, and he got 58
in the final call. I forget the exact number of Democrats, but
there were about 15. A lot of them are freshmen, new Democrats, and
we come from a different perspective.
In a lot of ways, it's not surprising to my Alaskan voters that
I would be here today. I never turn down any group to speak in
front of. I don't care if it's the Alaska Independence Party who
wants to secede from the United States to the Alaska Center for the
Environment to Gay Pride: You name it, I go, because what people
get from me is pretty straight talk, and I like to hear what
people's views are. It helps me develop who I am as a person.
The Northern Perspective on National
Today I want to discuss national defense issues from a
perspective you may not have heard often: the Northern Perspective.
Those of us from Alaska truly view things a little differently.
Anchorage is the largest city in Alaska; it's actually 43
percent of the state's population. On top of that, we're an
international city. We can touch, within nine hours from Alaska, 90
percent of the industrialized world by air. We do business with
Japan, Korea, China, Russia. Probably about every four or five
weeks I would do interviews with international press corps that
would come to Anchorage and talk about the strategic importance of
Alaska, and especially Anchorage.
Just to give you one other data point, Anchorage is the second
or third -- it goes back and forth -- largest cargo hauler in the
world. We move more cargo than almost everywhere else, except a
couple of cities, in this world. So if you're shipping anything
west of the Mississippi internationally, more than likely it's
coming through Anchorage. UPS as well as FedEx's international
headquarters are in our city.
I say that because also, from a military perspective, they
understand that strategic importance. When you think back to when
Alaska was set up and originally purchased in 1867, the U.S. Army
helped administer it, and then the next group about 10 years later
was the Navy and the U.S. Revenue Service. We ended having the
Coast Guard as one of our biggest components.
As time progressed and the gold rush occurred and Alaska
continued to move forward, we saw -- and it was General Billy
Mitchell that understood -- the air strategic location of Alaska
back in 1935 when air was just becoming more aggressively part of
the equation. His famous quote was, "Alaska is the most strategic
place in the world from a military standpoint."
As you can imagine, with World War II and the buildup of
Alaska's vital role, the nation's defense grew dramatically. The
Alaska Highway was constructed by the military and military
equipment. I don't know if anyone's ever subjected themselves to
driving the Alaska Highway; this was a road that the military
constructed in record time. The idea was to move goods into Alaska
for a strategic location. It was built by the Army.
Also, we had a unique group of individuals. They were Alaskan
people, Eskimos, Alaska Territorial Guard, who were really our eyes
and ears on the shores of Alaska for the United States. A very
important group. There's not many left now.
As a matter of fact, I'm battling right now in the Department of
Defense budget to get a little clause taken care of. These are
individuals, about 26 of them, who served this country for more
than 20 years, and the Army will not pay them a pension. But they
get Veterans Administration benefits. It's a small group that is 86
years old. They actually paid them for a short period of time; then
they cut them off and told them they might have to repay it.
I said, "What are you talking about? These individuals served
our country. They were on the front lines. They volunteered to
serve, and then they continued to serve in the military in other
capacities for another 20-plus years." So we are aggressively
working on that.
Iraq and Afghanistan
Alaska, again, as we move into where we are today, is very
vital. We have 30,000 active duty members from all branches, from
all our bases, from Elmendorf, Eielson, and Clear Air Force bases,
as well as Forts Richardson, Wainwright, and Greely, which are our
Army bases. These bases are home to the latest and greatest
military equipment. The big debate yesterday was F-22s. We have
F-22s. We have a whole complement of them, and we're very proud of
the fact that we have them. We also have the C-17s. If you've ever
been in one of those, it's an incredible aircraft, one that is
making a big difference.
We also have a Stryker brigade, the Army's model deployable
brigade combat team, to fight the counterinsurgency, which is
critical. Our Stryker brigade already has seen activity in Iraq,
and another Alaska airborne brigade combat team has recently been
deployed to Afghanistan. I'm sure you've seen the recent accounts
of PFC Bowe Bergdahl, who is from Fort Richardson, originally from
Idaho but stationed at Fort Richardson.
Alaska also is the home to 75,000 veterans, the highest per
capita in the nation, 11 percent of our population. I want to give
you this background so you see the backdrop of what I deal with as
a person who sits on the Armed Services Committee and is involved
heavily in the issues that surround the military in Alaska, but
also our country.
Five us recently came back from Afghanistan and Pakistan. Tom
Carper (D-DE), Mark Udall (D-CO), Kay Hagan (D-NC), and Jeanne
Shaheen (D-NH) went on this trip, along with myself, to really
understand what's going on in Afghanistan and Pakistan. We got
there just as things started to move. We left one of the cities,
and it was bombed the next day or so. We were there in the
heightened area. But it was important to understand, because I
wanted to know what makes sense, what do we need to do, especially
as we deal with what affects our troops.
Alaska has nearly 10,000 troops deployed in Afghanistan and
Iraq. When you think of our state, a lot of people say it's just a
small state up north. But if you think of the volume, we're the
sixth among all states and territories in volume of personnel
serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The trip was an eye-opener, to be very frank with you. It gave
me a sense of where we need to be and how the counterinsurgency is
working; but also, spending time in Pakistan was very important. We
were there right when the shift was starting to occur, where the
military in Pakistan was finally realizing they have to move their
forces over to the border with Afghanistan to make some impact;
otherwise they're going to be overrun.
So for us, it's important; for this world, I think it's
important. We want a stable government in Pakistan. We want to make
sure that the Taliban does not take control of their government in
any form or any way. We were there right when this was all starting
to move and shift, so when you talk about being at the right place
at the right time, this may have been yes on one day but no on the
next, because you weren't sure what was going to happen next.
Also, as we finished there, North Korea was getting active. We
were travelling and then starting to get reports as we went with
regard to North Korea and what's going on there.
Alaska and Missile Defense
As you know, in Fort Greely, we're very fortunate to have the
ground missile defense system. Greely currently has capacity for 26
missile interceptors, maintained by members of the Alaskan National
Guard. The interceptors can be launched to intercept an incoming
It's hard to describe this to people who are not aware of it.
It's a bullet hitting a bullet. That's the technology. It's an
incredible technology that has developed over the last several
One of the arguments early on was, it doesn't work. Well, that's
why you're testing it. I could never understand that argument. As
soon as you got it up and running, they said it doesn't work. No,
you're testing it, you're improving it, you're advancing the
technology. If you ask the military today, as we have done in the
Armed Services Committee, about the missile defense system overall,
it's 90 percent accuracy. That's not too bad, and it's because of
robust testing and the issues that the military has been homing in
on involving better technology.
As you know, the President had proposed cuts to not only the
ground base, but also some other programs within the missile
defense system. The budget that's in front of us today has, on the
ground missile defense system, the continuation to a certain extent
of that program, but it also still has a termination of the Multi
Kill Vehicle as well as the Airborne Laser Tail 2.
This is mainly because in the eyes of the committee, as well as
the individuals that were developing the systems, we were jumping
to production, and they want to continue to focus on the
experimental stage, which seems rational. But we have to be very
careful that people don't just throw out the whole missile defense
system because they think that's old technology and that's not
where we are today. That's an incorrect view.
The GMD system, as you know, is in Alaska and California, and
it's supported by an array of radars deployed all around the world.
It's an American-based defense system to protect our nation. It's
the only operational missile defense system. The decision to reduce
the total number of deployed operational interceptors from 44 to 30
was the President's proposal. The investment strategy may have
changed, but the threat clearly hasn't.
Consider the quantity of missile testing that North Korea has
done since this budget proposal was presented by the
Administration. North Korea has launched 16 ballistic missiles and
conducted one underground test, as well as a multi-stage long-range
missile. The latest launch on July 4 means that 70 percent of the
missile tests that they have done since 1988 have occurred since
April of this year.
Maybe it's a coincidence, but I'm not sure I like that
coincidence. As they do these tests, they're perfecting their
technology, but they're also showing their wares. First, they want
to improve their technology. Second, they want other countries to
see what they have, because they're in the business of selling too.
That's what they do. That's part of their hard cash economy.
So it's not just about North Korea and what they might do; it's
what North Korea will do and who they will sell it to. We have to
keep that all in perspective.
Robust Testing and the Long-Term
Fort Greely is the home of most of our Ground-Based Midcourse
Defense Interceptors. Alaska soon will be the home of the Sea-Based
X-Band Radar, which is currently going through some testing and
will be located in Adak.
Along with that, the Kodiak, Alaska, launch is important because
it's also a launch facility for testing to replicate enemy threats
and launches. This is in Alaska. The good news on this front is
that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates made it very clear that he
wants robust testing, and, again, we're very supportive of that. We
think that's important. If you don't have robust testing, you
cannot perfect the technology.
In the weeks since the announcement to reduce the number of
Alaska-based interceptors by the Administration, the Missile
Defense Agency has had to do some fast analysis. Part of the
problem is deteriorating conditions for what's called Missile Field
In Alaska, you have Missile Field 1; then you have completed
Missile Field 3, and then Missile Field 2 that we're now doing.
What they quickly found as we were going through this discussion in
our committee was that Missile Field 1, which was originally six
silos for the interceptors, was designed to be a test facility and
was put together very quickly. Because of that, it has leaking
antifreeze, has mold contamination, outdated copper pipes that are
freezing and thawing, and a variety of other things which, as you
can imagine, for a missile silo are not good to have.
We learned this through the discussion of the committee, which
was not public until we brought it out. And what we found was, even
under the robust plan as they claim they had in the Administration,
what was about to happen was that they were going to have less
capacity because the first six silos are inadequate and are
deteriorating. It was important for us to make that point. Also,
the plan for Missile Field 2 is to stop the construction, close it
down, seal it up, move on.
We debate a lot about cost overruns, expensive things we're
doing. The problem with that is, why would you take all the work
that's being done there, shift it out of there, all the people and
equipment, and then, now that we've got to replace the six that are
deteriorating, bring them all back and do the next six or
What we argued for in committee, and were successful in Missile
Field 2, was to make sure that the next seven silos be finished.
So, as they figure out how to decommission the first six, there's
seven silos to move forward until they finish their long-term
planning in regards to the Defense Review as well as the Ballistic
Missile Defense Review. Our view was, why would you make a decision
when you don't have a plan yet of what you want to do with
ballistic missile defense systems? The argument was received in a
positive way by the committee. It worked, and they were unanimous
in the final outcome.
Also, we made sure to ensure that Congress has all the
information available at the time of the budget submission in the
future, which is critical because we did not have it this time. I
know how the system works; I used to be a manager as a mayor, and
when you control the information, you deliver as you see fit. In
this situation, we've made it very clear in Section 243 of the
Defense Authorizing bill to provide future-year defense plans
annually that provide a schedule and plans for testing,
sustainment, development, and deployment of GMD.
What we were working on when we were doing this budget was a
2010 kind of budget only. With missile defense, it's a long-term
view you have to have. You have to see the whole picture, and we
were only being delivered this short-term picture.
When we started asking questions about 2011, 2012, 2013, that's
when we started to learn about Field 1 and what was happening with
that. They had no plan yet to deal with that, so we had to help
develop it through the process. This will make it clear that they
must work through this process with us and show us the long-term
Energy Independence and National
Finally, the whole issue of energy independence is critical if
we are to have more flexibility in our national defense strategies
and in our world strategies when it comes to international affairs.
What I'm finding is that oil and gas issues are not necessarily
high on the list of a lot of folks in the Democratic caucus. Now, I
said that six months ago; today, it's a little different. We have
more Democratic Senators coming from Western states now: Montana,
the Dakotas, Colorado, New Mexico, Alaska -- what I call the Rocky
Mountain Western states.
Why is that important? Because we're states that understand
natural resource development. We understand oil and gas; we
understand mineral development. It's all part of what we do in our
states as part of our economy. So we bring a different voice to the
table that hasn't been there in a long time. We bring it from an
economic standpoint, but we also bring it from a national defense
standpoint: how important it is to be energy independent as far and
as much as we can.
The issues around oil and gas, as we move to an energy bill for
this country, will be aggressively fought. Senator Mary Landrieu
(D-LA) has really carried the water in the Democratic caucus on oil
and gas issues, but now she has reinforcements; the new folks are
here, and we're laying out what we think is important. The energy
bill as well as the climate change bill will be an important two
pieces of legislation as we move forward in the next four or five
months, and I think what you'll see is a more moderate wing of the
Democratic Party within the caucus laying out our positions on how
these industries need to be part of the equation.
Again, that's a little different, and I think it's going to be
exciting. As I said, energy is one piece, but climate change is
another. We'll see how that all plays out as time goes on, but I
can tell you, from Alaska's perspective, we are ground zero. Anyone
wants to talk about climate change, I can spend hours on that. But
I also understand the importance of industry, because we see how
you balance the oil and gas industry against the environment, at
the same time recognizing how we have to deal with climate
We can argue all we want about what causes it; the fact is that
something is happening, and it's in our best interest to do
something about it from an economic standpoint, but also from an
energy long-term standpoint. What you don't ever want to get into
is a crisis moment, because when crisis moments happen -- whether
it's around energy, climate change, you pick the issue -- the
likelihood is that you will have bad decisions come out of it
because you're in a crisis.
You're making decisions for the moment, not the long term, so
it's in our best interest as a country to figure out how we nail
this package together the right way. As I've told my colleagues, if
you can get Alaskans to agree to a climate change bill, it's
probably going to be a good bill because that means it's protected
I love sitting around with other Senators when they talk about
coal, because coal-state guys are adamant. They're militant on
energy issues. I say, "Oh, yeah, that's great. If I combine all of
your coal, every state in this country, including Hawaii, we exceed
the amount of coal deposits in the country in Alaska. We have
half-plus the coal deposits of this country. We understand
nonrenewable and renewable energy, but we also understand the
impacts of climate change."
So it's going to be a very exciting and very challenging