Missile Defense Doesn’t Seem to Work for Job Creation, Either

November 22, 2013 | 2:50 pm
Laura Grego
Research Director, Senior Scientist

For a host of reasons, building a new “East Coast” missile defense site is a poor use of resources, with even the Missile Defense Agency saying it would use any additional funds for something else. The price tag for building and operating a new site for five years would be about $3.6 billion, according to the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

Those who might be hardest to convince a new missile defense site is a bad idea may be those who live in the communities near the sites that made the candidates list (Fort Drum, New York; Camp Ethan Allen Training Site, Vermont; Naval Air Station Portsmouth, Maine; Camp Ravenna Joint Training Center, Ohio; and Fort Custer Training Center, Michigan) and could benefit from an infusion of new economic activity and jobs.

Workers preparing an interceptor in Alaska (Source: Missile Defense Agency)

Workers preparing an interceptor in Alaska (Source: Missile Defense Agency)

This begs the question, then, of how many jobs a new missile interceptor site would come with.

It’s hard to say exactly, but we can look at how things played out at the existing Fort Greely, Alaska, site, which is home to most of the existing interceptors of the U.S. Ground-based Missile Defense (GMD) system. Boeing, the prime contractor on the GMD system, paid the University of Alaska to conduct a study that looked at the economic effects of missile defense activity in that state during 2007.

How Many Jobs?

The study covered not just the interceptor fields at Fort Greely, but three other sites—Eareckson Air Station  at Shemya Island, which hosts the Cobra Dane radar; Adak, which is the home port of the Sea-Based X-band radar; and Kodiak Launch Complex, from where targets for interceptor tests were launched. The Boeing study concluded that in 2007, the GMD program provided 323 Alaskan jobs via prime & sub contractors for the four sites. When an estimate of the jobs created from associated economic activity was added to the direct jobs, the total number of jobs for all sites was 716. So the number of jobs for one, smaller site could be considerably smaller than 716.

Was 2007 a typical year?  Not really, it was probably near peak activity, as it concluded the work on Block 2006, in which 14 additional interceptors were emplaced at Fort Greeley. According to the GAO, to achieve this goal, “the element’s prime contractor added a manufacturing shift during 2007 and extended the number of hours that certain shifts’ personnel worked. These actions allowed the contractor to more than double its interceptor emplacement rate.” The GMD program also had a cost overrun in 2007 of more than $1 billion.  So, 716 jobs appears to be a peak number. And few of these jobs would be long-term.

What About Other Investments?

I’m no economist, but I wondered what kind of job creation a similar investment in other job-creating enterprises would provide. So I talked to some of my UCS colleagues who work on renewable energy technologies.  A 2008 study by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory looked at the economic effect of building wind turbines in Colorado; it estimated that developing 1,000 MW of wind-generated power would create 1,700 full-time equivalent jobs (including engineering and manufacturing jobs), and operation and maintenance would provide 300 permanent jobs in rural areas. Lawrence Livermore Laboratories calculated an average cost of building wind power last year to be $1,940/kW (and this cost is dropping.)  So these jobs would come at an initial investment of around $2 billion.  (And continue to provide a return on investment.)  Interestingly, missile defense site candidates Maine, Michigan, and New York are all in the top 20 states for wind energy potential.

In a similar sized investment, Hemlock Semiconductor, in Saginaw County, Michigan, spent $2.5 billion over the last five years on manufacturing facilities that produce materials for solar panels, creating 1,000 new jobs. Northeast Ohio is home to over 100 clean-energy companies, and the majority—about 2/3—of clean-energy jobs are “green collar” jobs, with moderate wages and moderate educational requirements. The Cleveland metro area’s green jobs are growing by 4% per year (and Toledo’s are growing by 8% per year.) A report by the U.S. Council of Mayors estimates that Akron, Ohio, (the nearest big town to the Camp Ravenna site) has the potential to grow 6500 more green jobs in the next 25 years. The kind of money that would build a new missile defense site could instead be used to promote development of clean energy jobs in rural areas or those near industrial centers.

So even as a jobs program, missile defense doesn’t seem to be a good answer.