White House Debuts Four-Phase Plan for European Missile Defense

(Sep. 18) -A U.S. Standard Missile 3 interceptor launches from a Navy warship during a July exercise. The Obama administration intends to begin deploying the weapon off of Europe by 2011 (U.S. Missile Defense Agency photo).
(Sep. 18) -A U.S. Standard Missile 3 interceptor launches from a Navy warship during a July exercise. The Obama administration intends to begin deploying the weapon off of Europe by 2011 (U.S. Missile Defense Agency photo).

The Obama administration yesterday unveiled a four-phase plan that would replace the abandoned initiative to deploy missile-defense installations in Poland and the Czech Republic (see GSN, Sept. 17).

U.S. officials said yesterday they intended to deploy a system that would effectively and cost-efficiently counter the growing threat posed by Iranian short- and medium-range missiles.

The Middle Eastern state has not readied as quickly as anticipated an arsenal of long-range missiles, which the Bush administration plan for European missile defenses had been developed to defeat. Meanwhile, the United States has made significant advancements developing systems such as the Standard Missile 3 and other technology, according to a White House fact sheet.

"These changes in the threat as well as our capabilities and technologies underscore the need for an adaptable architecture. This architecture is responsive to the current threat, but could also incorporate relevant technologies quickly and cost-effectively to respond to evolving threats," the release states. "Accordingly, the Department of Defense has developed a four-phased, adaptive approach for missile defense in Europe."

The first phase calls for fielding by 2011 some existing technologies, including the Aegis system and the SM-3, to counter ballistic missile threats against U.S. personnel in Europe and allies on the continent.

By about 2015, following a period of testing, the United States would deploy an improved version of the SM-3, on both land and sea, along with more sophisticated sensor technology. This would allow for protecting a wider area against short- and medium-range missiles, according to the fact sheet.

Roughly three years later, Washington would follow up with deployment of an even more advanced version of the SM-3 that could be used against short-, medium, and intermediate-range threats. That system is currently under development, as is the final SM-3 planned for deployment around 2020 in the fourth phase of the plan. That weapon would strengthen defenses against medium- and intermediate-range missiles and possible ICBM threats against the United States, the White House said.

"Throughout all four phases, the United States also will be testing and updating a range of approaches for improving our sensors for missile defense," the fact sheet said. "The new distributed interceptor and sensor architecture also does not require a single, large, fixed European radar that was to be located in the Czech Republic; this approach also uses different interceptor technology than the previous program, removing the need for a single field of 10 ground-based interceptors in Poland. Therefore, the secretary of defense recommended that the United States no longer plan to move forward with that architecture" (White House release, Sept. 17).

Deploying the ship-based Aegis missile defense system and SM-3 interceptors provides the U.S. Defense Department with greater flexibility and mobility, the Christian Science Monitor reported. The systems could also use more than 100 interceptors, as opposed to the 10 that would have been fielded in Poland.

"So this is a substantial addressal of the proliferation of the threat that we're seeing emerge," said Gen. James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (Gordon Lubold, Christian Science Monitor, Sept. 17).

A recently issued intelligence report spurred the administration's move on the European missile defenses, the Associated Press reported. The May 2009 National Intelligence Estimate contained the agreed-upon conclusion by the 16 U.S. intelligence agencies that Iran would need six to 11 years to produce a nuclear-capable ballistic missile, according to a government source. Early estimates had indicated that Tehran could possess an ICBM capable of reaching Europe and the United States by 2015 (Pamela Hess, Associated Press I/San Francisco Chronicle, Sept. 17).

The decision was blasted by Republicans on Capitol Hill and by some elements in Warsaw and Prague.

The move suggests the Obama administration "doesn't recognize the threat posed by the Iranian regime," said Representative Howard McKeon (R-Calif.), ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee.

"I am concerned that the administration is heading down a path where it is willing to undercut our allies and cave to Russian demands on vital national security matters," he said in a statement (Agence France-Presse/Yahoo!News, Sept. 17).

"Betrayal! The U.S. sold us to Russia and stabbed us in the back," exclaimed the Polish tabloid Fakt (Vanessa Gera, Associated Press II/Yahoo!News, Sept. 18).

Moscow was a vehement opponent of the previous plan, describing it as a threat to Russian strategic security. The Obama administration has sought to "reset" relations with the United States' former Cold War rival.

The U.S. reversal established "good conditions" for defense collaboration, said Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

"Naturally, we will have to conduct substantial, expert consultations, and of course, our country is ready for this," he said. "We will work together to develop effective measures against the risks of missile proliferation, measures that take into account the interests and concerns of all sides and ensure equal security for all countries in European territory."

One former Russian military official said Washington's new plan could not yet be ruled out as a threat to his nation, the Washington Post reported.

"Everything depends on the scale of such a system," retired Maj. Gen. Vladimir Dvorkin told Interfax. "If it comprises a multitude of facilities, including a space echelon, it may threaten the Russian potential of nuclear deterrence."

While existing ship-based interceptors pose no threat to Russia, improved interceptors and sophisticated radars planned for deployment could be more cause for concern, the Post reported (Philip Pan, Washington Post, Sept. 18).

Moscow said, nonetheless, that it would drop plans for deploying short-range missiles near Poland, as had been threatened in response to the previous U.S. interceptor plan, Reuters reported (Reuters I, Sept. 18).

It remains to be seen whether the Obama administration's decision will persuade Moscow to increase support for efforts to curb Iran's nuclear program, which is seen in some sectors as an effort to establish a nuclear-weapon capability, according to the Associated Press.

The Kremlin waved off any idea of a quid pro quo, but it could quietly lean on Tehran, according to AP (Steven Hurst, Associated Press III/Yahoo!News, Sept. 17).

NATO also hopes to collaborate with Russia on missile defense, Reuters reported.

"I would like Russia and NATO to agree to carry out a joint review of the new 21st century security challenges, to serve as a firm basis for our future cooperation," Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said today in Brussels. "We should explore the potential for linking the U.S., NATO and Russian missile defense systems at an appropriate time" (David Brunnstrom, Reuters/Yahoo!News, Sept. 18).

Poland still expects to become home to a U.S. Patriot missile battery, a promise made by the Bush administration as it sought to conclude negotiations on the now-scrapped interceptor plan, Reuters reported. The system will not be unarmed, as had been recently reported, said Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski.

"The new element is that the American side has assured us that the Patriots will be armed and capable of being linked to our defense system," he said yesterday.

The U.S. Defense Department would send the battery, carrying roughly 100 missiles, to Poland for a short time each year from 2009 to 2011, according to the Bush administration deal. The battery would become a permanent fixture in Poland by 2012, according to Deputy Defense Minister Stanislaw Komorowski.

The new U.S. program also appears set to include some element in Poland, Sikorski said.

"We think this is an interesting offer. ... We are waiting for written proposals. This is an American decision. We will take a close look when we receive an offer," he said (Reuters III/Yahoo!News, Sept. 17).

September 18, 2009
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The Obama administration yesterday unveiled a four-phase plan that would replace the abandoned initiative to deploy missile-defense installations in Poland and the Czech Republic (see GSN, Sept. 17).