European States Slowly Enhancing Antimissile Capabilities

European nations are gradually enhancing their individual antimissile capabilities in order to participate in a NATO for a continent-wide missile shield, Aviation Week reported on Friday (see GSN, Sept. 30).

Though progress is seen, advancements in European nations' defenses against missile strikes are expected to be measured and will not equal the amount of money spent on the project by the United States.

France is motivated to enhance its capacities to ensure its defense firms can compete with U.S. companies for NATO missile interceptors contracts (see GSN, July 21). Meanwhile, the Netherlands is interested in adding ballistic missile defense operations to the Thales Smart-L radar fielded on Dutch warships. The project could cost between $133 million and $332 million.

Dutch Defense Minister Hans Hillen said enhancing the Smart-L radar would alleviate the Western military bloc's shortfall in ballistic missile detection capabilities. The increased capacity of the Dutch sensor could provide NATO's Active Layered Theater Ballistic Missile Defense command-and-control system with the necessary ability to detect far-off threats as well as highly specific data on the location of enemy missile launchpads.

Each of the Netherlands' four De Zeven Provincien-class vessels would need to undergo modifications to allow a minimum of two to be on sea patrol at all times. A target date of 2017 has been set to have all four of the Dutch warships ready to take on long-range detection duties.

Both Denmark and Germany, which have their own Smart-L radars, have been tracking the Netherlands' plans, as has France, according to a document sent by Hillen to Dutch lawmakers.

The French government wishes to enhance its Aster 30 interceptor to take on ballistic missile threats; an official contractor has yet to be chosen for the project.

NATO recently awarded a U.S.-led multinational consortium a $3.4 million contract to define preliminary steps for an initiative to expand the alliance's existing battlefield antimissile capabilities into a system capable of shielding both military troops and civilians across the continent, (see GSN, Sept. 29).

U.S. commander of Air Forces in Europe Gen. Mark Welsh noted problems that can arise in identifying which NATO states will take on which missile defense duties and their associated price tags. "The cost of this terrifies the countries," Welsh said.

The general said NATO members could address the problem by sharing costs for some acquisitions or by offering other resources, such as emergency medical responders to assist in the aftermath of a missile strike or decontamination personnel to respond in the event of a WMD strike on NATO territory.

"Many of the nations can contribute in ways, for example, in offensive operations," Welsh said. "Many of the nations can contribute in ways, for example, in offensive operations. Many have capabilities that would allow us to go in and strike a missile site before it launches an attack, if NATO every made that decision.

Simultaneously, NATO must not lose sight of its principal objective in establishing a command-and-control ability. The acquisition of new radars and interceptors is a lesser concern, he said.

"We are at step zero right now trying to build this," he said.

"The first step is connectivity, we still have to prove that. To me, the idea is to prove you can do command and control, get a clear commitment to move forward on expansion of the capability, and then worry about the sensors and then the weapons. Without the sensors, the weapons don't matter," Welsh said.

A sea-based trial of Germany's Patriot missile interceptors' ability to take out a short-range dummy missile is slated to take place in November. A U.S. Aegis-equipped warship in the Mediterranean is to provide missile monitoring support, Welsh said (Aviation Week, Sept. 30).

Meanwhile, the United States and Russia are set to ink an accord on the sharing of missile threat data in May at an anticipated NATO-Russia Council summit in Chicago, RIA Novosti reported.

U.S. Ambassador to Russia John Beyrle told the Kommersant newspaper, "I am convinced that by the next NATO summit, which will be held in Chicago in 2012, we will already have got a Russian-NATO agreement on missile defense."

The bilateral agreement would cover the swapping of antimissile technology and the sharing of missile threat data gathered by two separate command sites, Beyrle said.

Moscow is demanding a unified antimissile program with Russian systems fully integrated with NATO systems to guarantee the alliance's missile interceptors are not aimed at Russia's long-range nuclear weapons; the Western military bloc wants two separate but connected systems (RIA Novosti, Oct. 3).

The sides agreed in late 2010 to negotiate avenues for missile defense cooperation, but have not reached agreement on the matter. Moscow continues to press for a legally binding pledge that the NATO shield would not be aimed at undermining the Russian strategic deterrent.

“I do not think you can talk about the failure of talks on missile defense,” Russia Today quoted Beyrle as telling Kommersant. “It must be remembered that the contradictions on missile defense between Russia and the United States did not begin yesterday, but have a long history. For over 20 years, Moscow and Washington have had varying views on this issue that are at times diametrically opposed. We can recall the initiative 'Star Wars' era of Ronald Reagan" (Russia Today, Oct. 3).

October 3, 2011

European nations are gradually enhancing their individual antimissile capabilities in order to participate in a NATO for a continent-wide missile shield, Aviation Week reported on Friday (see GSN, Sept. 30).