The nation’s military leaders are considering two sites in upstate New York — an active Army post and a shuttered Air Force base — and one site in Maine as potential missile interceptor sites on the East Coast.
The Missile Defense Agency is looking at 10 sites on the East Coast, including Fort Drum in northern New York, the old Griffiss Air Force Base near the central New York city of Rome and the former Loring Air Force Base in northern Maine. The agency expects to come up with a list of potential locations for further review in a matter of weeks.
The Defense Department has been directed to create an East Coast interceptor site in response to a perceived threat from Iran, which is believed to be developing nuclear weapons. The National Research Council, part of the National Academies of Science, identified Maine and northern New York as possible locations.
A current study will determine if such a missile battery is needed to support the country’s only other land-based sites at Alaska’s Fort Greely and California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base. That study should be done by year’s end, said U.S. Rep. Bill Owens, a northern New York Democrat whose district includes Fort Drum.
“I’m pushing Fort Drum largely because it has the existing infrastructure it needs,” Owens said. “Anything which expands the mission of Drum makes it more sustainable over time.”
Work is expected to begin this summer or next on a radar site at the sprawling Army post, said Carl McLaughlin, executive director of the Fort Drum Regional Liaison Organization. The radar site is designed to support the missile defense systems in Alaska and California, but McLaughlin said it could also position Fort Drum well to take on the East Coast missile battery.
Griffiss Air Force Base was closed in 1995 as part of a round of military closings around the country. It still maintains a role in the NORAD — or North American Aerospace Defense Command — surveillance system that monitors air space for threats.
“It makes strategic sense to have an East Coast missile defense site in upstate New York,” said U.S. Rep. Richard Hanna, whose district includes Griffiss. “The physical and economic resources already available at the former Griffiss Air Force Base in Rome make it the best location for such a site.”
Another potential site is the former Loring Air Force Base, which closed in 1994.
The land-based interceptors — with a crew of about 100 — would supplement Navy warships equipped with ballistic missile defense systems.
The House passed its version of the National Defense Authorization Act including $140 million for the missile system, but the Senate has not yet approved the act.
Fort Drum took a hit last month when it was announced it would lose one of three combat brigades, ultimately taking about 1,500 soldiers out of a community closely tied — in its identity and its economy — to the home of the 10th Mountain Division.
“We think Fort Drum would be ideal for it,” said McLaughlin, whose organization lobbies on behalf of the post. “It’s 100 individuals and any plus-up is a benefit. When you’ve just lost maybe up to 1,500, anything that makes up the difference is wonderful.”