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U.S. to Declare Interim European Missile Defense Capability at NATO Summit

By Rachel Oswald

Global Security Newswire

An Aegis warship fires a U.S. Standard Missile 3 interceptor in a 2007 trial. The United States plans at next week’s NATO summit to announce the deployment of an initial capability to thwart possible ballistic missile strikes on Europe (U.S. Missile Defense Agency photo). An Aegis warship fires a U.S. Standard Missile 3 interceptor in a 2007 trial. The United States plans at next week’s NATO summit to announce the deployment of an initial capability to thwart possible ballistic missile strikes on Europe (U.S. Missile Defense Agency photo).

WASHINGTON -- The United States intends to use the NATO summit that begins Sunday in Chicago to declare the establishment of an initial capacity to defeat ballistic missile attacks on Europe -- the latest step in an evolving effort that has been decades in the making and has cost the country billions of dollars as well as substantial political capital with strategic rivals (see GSN, May 2)

“We will announce the interim operational capability of that system, which will begin to protect our European partners from the threat of ballistic missiles,” Navy Adm. James Stavridis, supreme allied commander for Europe said in a Tuesday press release.

The United States in close to 30 years has spent nearly $150 billion on antimissile technology and foresees spending an additional $44 billion on the effort over the next five years (see GSN, May 10).

Consecutive U.S. administrations’ pursuit of missile defenses have greatly angered Russia and more recently jeopardized the high-profile “reset” in bilateral relations sought by the Obama administration. China is also increasingly voicing its distrust of Washington’s antimissile plans.

While leaders from the 28-member alliance on Sunday and Monday are anticipated to principally focus on reaching agreement on an exit strategy for Afghanistan, further moves on missile defense are also expected to receive considerable attention.

NATO in its revised 2010 Strategic Concept agreed that protecting against ballistic missile strikes was a “core element” of the alliance’s collective security. Nations at their previous summit in Lisbon, Portugal, agreed to develop a continent-wide shield that would link up and augment individual members’ antimissile programs, with the United States providing the lion’s share of equipment and technology.

“The reality is that the vast majority of the capability -- I would say 90 percent or more -- is going to come from the United States in the near term. We’re the ones that have these assets,” said Christopher Chivvis, a political scientist at the RAND Corp. “Europeans will be able to make certain kinds of contributions but probably more in the nature of command-and-control, staffing and manning the system rather than actual interceptors or radars.”

“But that doesn’t mean that in the medium term and especially in the long term they can’t make meaningful contributions,” he continued.

The alliance’s recently achieved interim antimissile capability -- the first phase of the Obama administration’s “phased adaptive approach” for European missile defense --is comprised of the Aegis guided missile destroyers USS Monterey and the USS The Sullivans; which are on rotation in the Mediterranean; an X-band radar system operating in Kurecik, Turkey; and a command-and-control center based in Ramstein, Germany. 

The U.S. Navy also plans starting in 2014 to home port four additional Aegis-class warships in Rota, Spain (see GSN, Feb. 17).

The combined Phase 1 systems have the ability to intercept short- and medium-range ballistic missiles -- providing coverage to Turkey and Southeast Europe, according to the U.S. military. Future stages of the missile shield are intended to add intermediate-range missile and ICBM interception capabilities.

NATO and the United States ultimately want to protect the full continent from a potential future long-range ballistic missile threat of Iran. Russia, though, argues that Tehran is at best years away from being able to deliver missiles into the heart of Europe. Moscow therefore suspects the Western military bloc of secretly plotting to undermine the Russian nuclear deterrent.

The United States through the end of the decade intends to deploy increasingly advanced Standard Missile 3 interceptors on bases in Poland and Romania and on the Spain-based destroyers. The SM-3 interceptor employs hit-to-kill technology to destroy missile warheads midflight.

Under Phase 2 of the Obama plan, 24 modified versions of the Aegis ship Standard Missile 3 interceptor by 2015 are to be based in Deveselu, Romania. U.S. Navy ships will also begin carrying the SM-3 Block 1B interceptor, which is intended to have enhanced hit-to-kill abilities over the current-generation Block 1A interceptor. 

The third phase of the program, around 2018, calls for fielding ship- and land-based next-generation Block 2A interceptors with the capacity to intercept short-, medium- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles. Deployment of 24 of the interceptors at a base in northern Poland would extend NATO shield protection over northern Europe, according to a new NATO missile defense analysis by the Brookings Institution’s Steven Pifer.

In the final phase of the phased adaptive approach, around 2020, Block 2B interceptors are anticipated to be fielded in Poland, where they will likely replace the previously fielded Block 2A interceptors, Pifer said. The most advanced of all the SM-3 series, the Block 2B’s designs call for improved abilities to defeat medium- and intermediate- range missiles as well as first-generation ICBMs that might threaten the United States.

Richard Lehner, a spokesman with the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency, said joint U.S.-Japanese development of the Block 2A interceptors is “proceeding” and that an announcement of the lead contractor for the Block 2B interceptor is anticipated to come in the first quarter of fiscal 2014. Defense contractors are developing Block 2B concepts for MDA consideration, he said.

Achieving full implementation of the phased adaptive approach in 2020 could prove problematic, two separate government expert reports have found in the last year. The reports by the Government Accountability Office and the Pentagon’s Defense Science Board identified signifcant complications including developing sufficient radar sensor capabilities, potential cost increases, and the timely development of interceptors (see GSN, April 23). 

The Missile Defense Agency has acknowledged that distinguishing between warheads and decoys that could be launched to distract attention in a potential missile attack remains a persistent technical challenge.

"If you can't tell tell the difference between a warhead and pieces of debris from an attempted intercept, how are you going to identify a decoy that's designed to fool you?" the Associated Press quoted Massachusetts Institute of Technology scientist Theodore Postol as saying in April.

Lehner, though, last month told AP that existing antimissile systems are capable of thwarting dangers posed by "rogue nations" and are being enhanced.

Europe’s Contribution

In 2005, NATO created the Active Layered Theater Ballistic Missile Defense system. The program is aimed at enhancing and testing the alliance’s command-and-control systems to allow for effective data and communication exchanges between member states’ antimissile systems and the alliance command. The intent is to provide the military bloc with a greater scope of detection and response capabilities against nonstrategic high-altitude threats with ranges as far as 1,860 miles.

NATO’s existing theater antimissile program is projected to cost $1 billion to provide protection against tactical threats. For less than an additional $254 million the system’s reach can be expanded “to enable NATO to defend European populations, territory and forces, according to an e-mail statement from Jerome Erulin, an alliance spokesman at the Supreme Allied Commander Transformation in Norfolk, Va.

Questions submitted to the alliance on the timeline for completion of the ALTBMD expansion upgrade were not returned by press time.

The alliance in the last seven years has spent roughly $190 million on missile defense capabilities. “But these costs are mainly dedicated to command-and-control because, as you know, the Interim BMD Capability will mainly be based on national contributions of sensors and interceptor, Erulin wrote. 

All 28 alliance members are presently contributing command-and-control capabilities to the missile shield, according to Stavridis.

While the U.S. SM-3 interceptors are expected to form the backbone of the NATO-wide missile shield, several European allies have signaled that they are prepared to contribute their antimissile assets to the alliance effort (see GSN, Oct. 3, 2011).

“Allies are stepping up as contributors to the NATO missile defense effort. Germany and the Netherlands currently field [Patriot Advanced Capability 3 interceptors], Greece and Spain operate [Patriot Advanced Capability 2 interceptors] and France and Italy have the SAMP/T system, which has capabilities similar to those of the Patriot,” Deputy Defense Assistant Secretary Bradley Roberts said in Senate testimony last month.

The Netherlands intends to enhance the Thales Smart-L radar fielded on all four of its De Zeven Provincien-class warships so that they can detect long-range ballistic missile threats.  The enhanced detection capabilities would be connected to the alliance’s ALTBMD command-and-control system.

Dutch Defense Ministry spokesman Capt.  J.W.G. Geers by e-mail said the radar enhancement project is estimated to cost more than $147 million. It would consist of “the development, production and modification, the combat management system, modification of the test facilities and logistic support such as spare parts, instruction, documentation and software licenses.” 

Radar enhancements to the first frigate are anticipated to be finished in 2018 with the last upgrade to be completed in 2021, Geers said.

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen in a column published this week in the Wall Street Journal said, “France plans to develop an early warning capability and long-range radar. Germany has offered Patriot missile batteries and is hosting the NATO command-and-control at Headquarters Alliance Air Command in Ramstein.”

Berlin is also weighing pursuing an airborne sensor capability that could tie into the NATO shield, Roberts said in his testimony. He added that “France has proposed a concept for a shared-early warning satellite, and is developing a transportable midcourse radar for BMD and early warning.”

Spain has four deployed Aegis-equipped frigates and a fifth vessel is expected to be commissioned in July. Madrid could upgrade the vessels to enable them to carry the SM-3 interceptor and substantially enhance NATO’s ability to defend the southern Mediterranean from ballistic missile strikes from the Middle East, according to an October blog post by the Heritage Foundation’s Lajos Szaszdi. However, the Spanish government’s substantial budget problems could push this project down the road for the time being.

Requests for comment to the Spanish Defense Ministry were not returned as of press time.

Italy and Germany are still committed to the Medium Extended Air Defense System, which they years ago agreed to finance with the United States. Though the Pentagon last year said it does not intend to purchase any of the MEADS units, Berlin has urged Washington to maintain its financial support past its contractual obligation that ends in fiscal 2013 (see GSN, July 19, 2011).

The antimissile system is intended to defend against tactical ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and enemy fighter planes. The system was originally scheduled for delivery in 2018. Were the MEADS program to be funded to completion, it could be linked to the NATO missile shield, according to Pifer.

Note to our Readers

GSN ceased publication on July 31, 2014. Its articles and daily issues will remain archived and available on NTI’s website.

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