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Stefanik questions DoD officials on missile defense, coronavirus

WATERTOWN — Rep. Elise Stefanik questioned Department of Defense officials Wednesday morning on missile defense and the coronavirus outbreak.

Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, has been pushing to appropriate funds for an East Coast Missile Defense Site at Fort Drum, especially after the base was recently passed over as the site for a fourth Army Corps Headquarters.

As a result, when Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testified before a House Armed Services Committee hearing Tuesday, Stefanik was there to ask them a few questions.

Stefanik referenced a 2019 review that states building a missile defense site in the United States would add to the capability against potential expansions of missile threats to the homeland. When considering emerging threats overseas, whether that be from Iran or North Korea, Stefanik asked if those would prompt the conception of a third interceptor site.

Esper said he would take that back to his staff for an assessment. He added that it would have to be threat-driven, and it probably warrants an update.

Milley echoed Esper’s comments, adding that it’s a bit too early to tell with respect to Iran on whether there should be another interceptor site.

“As of today,” Milley said, “an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of carrying a nuclear weapon has not been fully developed and tested by Iran, but we don’t know what the future is going to hold.”

Stefanik then said Fort Drum had been selected as the preferred location for an east coast missile defense capability. And, in the 2019 missile defense review, there are several studies to determine whether there’s a necessity for a new site. She asked if those studies have concluded. Esper said he would get back to her on those questions.

“Great. It’s really important for my district,” Stefanik said. “Very important for our broader missile defense discussions.”

The congresswoman then shifted gears to the novel coronavirus. She noted the first case of a soldier with the virus was confirmed Tuesday night from U.S. forces in Korea. Stefanik asked how the Department of Defense is addressing this.

Esper said many commands have established plans for dealing with things like this. On the first of February, as this emerged coming out of China, Esper said he signed a campaign plan. He said he’s also working with high-level military personnel daily on how to respond to the threat, and his department has issued a variety of memorandums advising the force on how to deal with coronavirus.

“My first priority is protection of our people,” Esper said, “both service members and families, and then make sure we protect our ability to accomplish our mission.”

Milley said the coronavirus is very serious, though he noted that the center of gravity of it is still in China, with other countries like South Korea, Japan and Italy next on the list of highest numbers of confirmed cases.

“We the U.S. military and we the Department of Defense, are taking all kinds of appropriate precautions,” Milley said.

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