WASHINGTON– Anticipated budget constraints and the growing threat posed by rogue nations make it more important than ever that future U.S. missile defense tests be operationally focused, the commander of U.S. Northern Command and North American Aerospace Defense Command said today. Air Force Gen. Victor E. “Gene” Renuart Jr. credited a team approach between operational users and operational testers as United States advances its missile defense capabilities.

Speaking to the National Defense Industrial Association’s Missile Defense Division, he cited the successful model demonstrated during the past three missile defense tests. All included operational crews at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., and the chain of command exercised the decision cycle it would use to engage a real target.

Northcom and NORAD work closely with the Missile Defense Agency and U.S. Strategic Command to make testing more complex, robust and aligned with operational requirements, he said.

“We have brought the test process a long way to incorporate the needs of the operational user while at the same time develop test programs to allow test objectives to be met,” he said.

Conceding that the Defense Department is likely to face budget cuts during the next administration, Renuart said it’s not yet clear what programs will be affected, or how significantly. But he emphasized the continued U.S. commitment to missile defense, citing the growing threat posed by nations such as Iran that are working to develop capabilities that could strike U.S. partners or territory.

Although questioning the legitimacy of Iran’s recent announcement that it had successfully tested a mid-range missile, Renuart said such an achievement, if true, “would signify a significant development” in Tehran’s missile program. This, he said, could have an impact on the United States and its European allies.

“Other people are rapidly approaching the capability to threaten our homeland, and we need to be in a position to have the choice to defend ourselves,” Renuart said. “We need to make sure we support and advocate for a capability that would give us reasonable assurance that the homeland is defended.”

The United States also has committed to join with Europe and NATO to provide a missile defense capability to defend Europe, he said.

As the Northcom and NORAD commander, Renuart said, he must be able to tell his leadership, “If it gets shot at us, no matter what kind of capability it has, we have the ability to defend against it.”

Renuart reminded the participants that missile defense – a critical component of homeland defense – occurs 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Missile crews at Fort Greeley, Alaska, for example, brave minus-57-degree temperatures as they stand alert, ready to respond in the event of a rouge attack on the United States.

“That happens every day,” Renuart said. “It doesn’t make a lot of news, … [but] we are always alert and vigilant to the homeland defense mission.”

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