An 18-foot Tomahawk cruise missile shared the stage with Senator John McCain here on Tuesday as he addressed a room full of Raytheon Missile Systems employees.

The state’s senior senator did all of the talking, but the three-decade old missile was the main attraction, with McCain saying he was able to help reverse a Department of Defense decision to cut $82 million in funding for more missiles.

The decision to cut funding to the aging missile — with a replacement nowhere in sight for at least a decade — was shortsighted, McCain said, noting it was easy to convince his Senate colleagues to restore funding.

The six-term senator said he expects officials to try again next year.

“I hope we don’t have to keep this up year over year,” McCain said.

Amid tough language about serious threats to global security and an absence of leadership on the world stage from the Obama administration, McCain offered bits of good news for the local aerospace industry.

They included:

  • Hundreds of millions of dollars committed for Raytheon and the Israeli-owned Rafael Advanced Defense Systems to jointly produce the Iron Dome system
  • His firm support for a modernization program for the Tomahawk missile system, extending the useful life of the cruise missile
  • Progress on a complicated, multiparty land swap near the Tucson International Airport that would allow Raytheon to expand
  • Raytheon, he said, was also a finalist for a major defense contract with the Polish government
  • Continued support to save the A-10 from being mothballed, saying the Pentagon is “nuts” for trying to save money by replacing it with the F-35
  • McCain also said he was working on modifying an arms embargo with Vietnam, which could pave the way for the sale of missiles for maritime defense in the South China Seas.

Detailing his recent travels, McCain said the United States has largely abdicated responsibility when it comes to global terrorism threats.

“The world is probably in more turmoil than it has been in any time in my lifetime,” the 77-year-old said. “Literally all over the world, except in our hemisphere we have this rise of radical Islamic extremism.”

He reiterated his call for significant use of air strikes in both Iraq and Syria, saying ISIS has essentially erased the border between the two countries in its attempt to establish a sovereign state.

The sheer size of the area controlled by ISIS is now larger than the state of Indiana, McCain said.

McCain said it would be a mistake to ignore the growing crisis, telling the crowd that ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi threatened to attack New York after being released from an Iraqi jail.

The senator touched on long-term water supply issues and wildfire threats as top issues for Arizona, but did not mention illegal immigration in his 45-minute town hall at Raytheon.

Talking to reporters later, however, McCain said he wants to change federal immigration policy so that any illegal immigrants would be immediately flown back to their home county in Central America.

He said the United States would be better served if it built more embassies in Latin America for those seeking political asylum.

The federal government, he said, also has the ability to better secure the border, but lacks the political will to put resources into technological solutions.

McCain said that with advanced military radar systems used overseas, coupled with drones and watchtowers, the border could largely be secured.

Asked about the riots in Ferguson, Missouri, McCain said he would scale back the program that has allowed local law enforcement to purchase obsolete military equipment.

“I think that when police departments or law enforcement probably gets equipment almost for free, they may take stuff they may not necessarily need,” McCain said.

He said he might scale back the federal program, but said giving excess military equipment to law enforcement makes sense in certain cases.

McCain said the riots in Ferguson aren’t about the militarization of the police force, but the unexplained killing of an African-American teen that sparked the crisis.

Contact reporter Joe Ferguson at or 573-4346. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFerguson