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Fort Drum eyed by House Republicans for new missile defense site

Fort Drum
Aniks the 1 via Flickr
High angle view of the ramp at Wheeler Sack Army Airfield, Fort Drum, New York (NY), during the Hawgsmoke 2002 Competition, showing US Air Force (USAF) Air National Guard (ANG), maintenance personnel preparing A-10 Thunderbolt II aircraft for competition.

Fort Drum is being eyed as a possible location for a new East Coast missile defense site. Republicans in the House Armed Services committee called this week for a study on the issue.

The House Armed Services committee is considering an East Coast missile defense site because of growing concern about Iran. Right now, Fort Greely, in Alaska, and Vandenberg Air Force Base, in central California, house the nation's 30 missile interceptors. Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee want to require an environmental impact study to be completed by the end of 2013 on locating a new East Coast missile defense site. The discussion came amid early talks on the annual defense authorization bill.

Congressman Bill Owens, the Plattsburgh democrat representing New York's 23rd congressional district, says before any plans move forward it will have to be determined whether a new missile defense site is even necessary, or whether the existing locations on the West Coast are adequate to defend the eastern U.S.

"I think the reason people are talking about Fort Drum is because it is in reality the only large military installation left in the northeast," Owens said.

Owens says if it is determined an east coast site is needed, he'd want to have some questions answered before Fort Drum was named as the location for the program.

"I'd want to talk to the commanding general at Fort Drum, to make sure that this would not in any way denigrate the mission of the 10th Mountain Division. I'd want to talk to the community leaders in Watertown, to make sure that the community was prepared to absorb additional troops and an additional mission," Owens said.

It isn't yet clear what sort of changes this might mean for Fort Drum. Officials from the post declined to comment for this story, and Owens says it's pretty far in advance of any decision-making to start guessing about any real changes.

"Until we see what the study determines and we know exactly the nature of the facility that would be installed, we don't know whether this is going to cover an acre or 10 acres. We don't know whether it involves 100 troops, or it involves 1,000 troops," Owens said.

The House Republicans' measure would call for completing the new defense site by 2015.