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Fort Drum shortlisted for missile defense site that may never be built

U.S. Army. Some rights reserved.

The Department of Defense is including Fort Drum, near Watertown, as one of five sites to be studied for a new East Coast missile defense program. Local officials hailed the decision. But the Pentagon itself says it has no money to build the site.

Fort Drum will be considered along with Camp Ethan Allen in Jericho, Vermont, and military sites in Maine, Ohio, and Michigan.

Cong. Bill Owens says a missile interceptor base would bring billions of dollars in investments and more troops to the Jefferson County region.

"This is very important," Owens said. "It’s a breakthrough, if you will."

Owens knows – he was in Plattsburgh when the Air Force base there was suddenly mothballed in the 1990s. He says attracting a range of programs to Fort Drum is key to buffering the entire region from the whims of congressional military budgets and the potential of a base closure.

"We’re in the process of moving a drone squadron there," Owens said. "We have a very active 10th Mountain Division. All of those things play well into the story of why Drum should be maintained at its current levels. And that is always, in my view, a better position to be in as DOD looks around for places that they may reduce in size or eliminate."

It’s a budget cutting era in Washington, which makes an East Coast missile site seem like a long shot right now, even if Fort Drum is chosen.

The U.S. already has missile interceptor bases in Alaska and California. Pentagon officials say an additional site is not needed. And they told Reuters an East Coast site would be “extraordinarily expensive” – anywhere from $1-$5 billion.

But Congress has asked the Pentagon to study the possibility as a protection against Iran. That study will include Fort Drum.