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U.S. Plan for Achieving European Missile Defense Seen As Too Optimistic

By Rachel Oswald

Global Security Newswire

The USS Donald Cook docks in the southern port of Rota in February as the first of four U.S. missile interceptor-equipped warships sent to Spain to form a key part of NATO's ballistic-missile shield. The Pentagon's schedule for achieving some antimissile capabilities in Europe may be overly optimistic, a new congressional report finds. The USS Donald Cook docks in the southern port of Rota in February as the first of four U.S. missile interceptor-equipped warships sent to Spain to form a key part of NATO's ballistic-missile shield. The Pentagon's schedule for achieving some antimissile capabilities in Europe may be overly optimistic, a new congressional report finds. (Gogo Lobato/AFP/Getty Images)

U.S. congressional auditors have concluded the Pentagon is likely being too optimistic in its time schedule for achieving certain antimissile capabilities in Europe.

The Defense Department presently intends to declare the second and third phases of the European Phased Adaptive Approach "technically capable" in 2015 and 2018. This is in spite of the fact that problems getting the plan's next-generation ballistic missile technology to work correctly have already caused the department to postpone deployment of some capabilities as compared to original plans, the Government Accountability Office concluded in a  Friday report.

The Obama administration's blueprint for supporting NATO missile defense involves the gradual fielding through 2020 of increasingly capable interceptors at sea and at bases in Poland and in Romania. The stated aim of the antimissile deployments is to protect Europe from potential ballistic missile attacks by Iran, though Russia has long accused NATO of covertly seeking to undermine strategic nuclear stability on the continent.

Senior U.S. officials have consistently said that implementation of the European missile defense plan is "on track." But the findings from the GAO picture suggest that some time schedules within the plan could be imperiled because of technology- and acquisition-related challenges.

The United States declared Phase 1 of the plan technically active in December 2011 with the deployment of an AN/TPY-2 radar in Turkey and the fielding of warship-mounted Standard Missile 3 Block 1A interceptors in the Mediterranean. However, an initiative to augment by 2014 the existing capability to defeat short-range ballistic missile attacks will now not come until 2015, "due in part to addressing limitations identified following Phase 1 declaration," GAO officials said.

Additionally, the Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency has decided to split implementation of Phase 2 into two parts -- a "core" capability to be announced in 2015 and an upgrade to come in 2017. Congressional auditors found that this schedule "is on a higher risk path than originally planned," as "activities initially expected to be sequential are now concurrent."

The second phase is focused on expanding how much of European territory is to be protected from short- and medium-range ballistic missile threats. As part of Phase 2, the U.S. military has already sent the first of four planned Aegis warships equipped with Standard Missile 3 Block 1B interceptors to Spain. The deployment of a land-based version of the Aegis system equipped with 1B interceptors in Romania has yet to take place

The Pentagon now plans to field Phase 3 assets in 2020 -- two years later than was originally envisioned. The third and final phase is to involve the deployment of SM-3 Block 2A interceptors in Poland for protection against potential intermediate-range missile attacks. The GAO report found that "some participating systems are too early in development to assess risks," but that "development schedules for some systems are concurrent with Phase 3 integration activities" rather than preceding them.

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