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Defense Chiefs Back U.S. Plan for European Missile Shield

The top civilian and uniformed officials at the U.S. Defense Department on Wednesday supported the technical capabilities of U.S. missile defense systems set to be deployed in Europe, Aviation Week reported (see GSN, June 14).

The Obama administration's "phased adaptive approach" aims in coming years to deploy increasingly sophisticated versions of the Standard Missile 3 interceptor on land and at sea around Europe to counter missile threats from the Middle East, notably Iran. The shield by 2020 is intended to defend against medium-range missiles and possible ICBM threats, and to have an "early intercept" capability to eliminate incoming threats before warheads can separate from their carriers.

The "unclassified conclusion" of an upcoming Defense Science Board report to lawmakers is "that (the Missile Defense Agency's) plans to achieve an early intercept capability as part of the PAA is simply not credible," Senator Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) said during a Senate Appropriations defense panel hearing. "This is disturbing to some of us."

Shelby said the Missile Defense Agency pledged that the developmental SM-3 Block 2B system would allow the United States to conduct early intercept operations nine years from now. That argument was a "central justification" for shelving the Kinetic Energy Interceptor program and plans for deploying long-range missile interceptors in Poland, the lawmaker added.

"Is the department re-evaluating the phased adaptive approach in light of the DSB report?" Shelby asked Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The Pentagon officials indicated their continued support for the Obama plan, which replaced the Bush program to deploy the interceptors in Poland and a radar installation in the Czech Republic (see GSN, June 15).

The phased adaptive approach "will give us a missile defense capability several years earlier than would have been the case with the Third Site in Europe,” said Gates, who exits the Pentagon at the end of this month. “And let’s be blunt, the Third Site in Europe was not going to happen because the Czech Republic was not going to approve the radar.”

Mullen expressed "confidence" in the early intercept developmental schedule. "I think we can get there in that time frame on my understanding," said Mullen, who is also preparing to step down as Joint Chiefs head (Jen DiMascio, Aviation Week, June 16).

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