Marshall cautions against cuts in some weapons programs

Rep. Jim Marshall, D-Ga., reiterated his support Monday for increased funding for missile defense and conventional weapons programs. Marshall’s comments come as the Senate is poised to approve a defense spending bill that would focus the Pentagon’s energy toward fighting irregular ground wars such as those in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“We cannot ignore the very serious conventional threats that are out there,” Marshall said in a telephone interview. “Our preparations discourage the use of conventional force against us.”

Defense spending proposals recently before the House and the Senate threaten several programs Marshall has championed.

The Senate on Monday debated an amendment to a defense authorizations bill that would end production of the F-22. The House passed its own defense authorizations bill last month that made deep cuts into missile defense, against the wishes of Marshall.

“I think missile defense is extremely important as a defense tool,” Marshall said. “I think we need to be proceeding aggressively with research and development of additional missile defense capabilities.”

Marshall spent much of Monday discussing the Quadrennial Defense Review, a report on military strategy commissioned by the Department of Defense, in front of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

The next Quadrennial Defense Review is slated to be released in February. Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates is expected to use the review to cement his view that the Department of Defense should focus more on fighting irregular wars.

Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., and Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, also took part in the panel.

In April, Gates outlined nearly 50 recommendations related to weapons procurement. Many of those recommendations were adopted by the House Armed Services committee, on which Marshall serves. Gates urged lawmakers to make what he has repeatedly called “the tough choices” on weapons procurement. “This is a zero sum budget,” he said during a Monday news conference. Gates has urged cuts into the airborne laser program, a laser turret mounted onto the nose of a Boeing 747.

Advocates of the airborne laser claim the system can destroy missiles fired from boats.

“I worry more about rogue missiles than I do about a country intentionally launching missiles at the United States,” Marshall said. “One missile launched from a boat in the ocean intended simply to detonate high in the altitude in the United States … the consequences of that would simply be dreadful.”

Marshall does support Gates’ cuts in the Army’s Future Combat System, a complex network of armored vehicles.

“Future Combat System has been troubled for the entire time I’ve been in Congress,” Marshall said. “It’s probably going to be retooled, and I think that’s absolutely appropriate.”

To contact writer Thomas L. Day, call 744-4489.