NATO Sees Preliminary Ballistic Missile Shield Capability by May

NATO is expected to announce in May a preliminary capacity to protect Europe from feared ballistic missile attacks, Wired magazine reported on Thursday (see GSN, Sept. 30, 2011).

The regional antimissile capability will be comprised of U.S. Standard Missile 3 interceptors based on the Aegis-equipped USS Monterey from its location in the Mediterranean (see GSN, March 2, 2011) and an X-band radar unit established in Turkey's Kurecik province, a high-ranking NATO official told journalists (see GSN, Jan. 17).

The Western military alliance is to officially declare the new capability at a high-profile summit in Chicago.

The interim capability is to gradually be built out under the Obama administration's "phased adaptive approach," which would see increasingly advanced SM-3 interceptors over the next eight years deployed on sea and land. The Obama plan forms the core of a broader NATO initiative to link-up and enhance individual member nations' antimissile programs.

NATO says its missile shield is intended as a safeguard against potential missile strikes from the Middle East, a position viewed skeptically by Russia.

The interceptors fielded on the Monterey have the capability to target short- and medium-range missiles while future planned systems could also target intermediate-range missiles and ICBMs. NATO officials would not provide the specific maximum flight distance of the preliminary antimissile capability.

The first land-based interceptors to be wielded under the missile shield would be deployed in Romania, starting in 2015 (see GSN, Dec. 23, 2011). Interceptors capable of thwarting ICBMs are not expected in Europe before 2020.

The SM-3 interceptors that are to underpin the missile shield have their detractors. An analysis by two researchers from Cornell University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology determined that interceptors were unsuccessful in eliminating target warheads "in eight or nine of the 10 SM-3 intercept tests from 2002 to 2009." The U.S. Defense Department disputes those findings.

A September 2011 intercept test was also unsuccessful (see GSN, Sept. 6, 2011).

Brussels would not comment on Iran's potential reaction to the forthcoming interim capability announcement.

"It's aimed at incoming missiles, not a (specific) country," the NATO official said (Spencer Ackerman, Wired, Feb. 2).

The command and control operation for NATO's missile defense system is to be based out of western Germany at the Ramstein Air Base, Reuters reported.

"The command and control element will be based at Ramstein," a NATO Allied Air Command spokesman said. "The implementation of the new command structure will take place in the next two years" (see GSN, Jan. 6; Madeline Chambers, Reuters, Feb. 2).

Meanwhile, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on Thursday renewed Kremlin assertions that Brussels and Washington are secretly seeking to undermine his nation's strategic deterrent, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported.

Putin, who is widely expected to retake the Russian presidency next month, told the "Cold Politics" program that NATO and the United States have "undoubtedly aimed at neutralizing the nuclear rocket capability of Russia."

He claimed the missile shield's range would encompass "territory to the Urals (Mountains}, the places where our ground nuclear forces are based."

"Today there is no threat from Iran or North Korea" that would necessitate such an antimissile capability, Putin continued.

He also criticized the alliance for not providing any form of pledge that the missile defense system would not be aimed at Russian nuclear weapons (Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Feb. 3).

February 3, 2012

NATO is expected to announce in May a preliminary capacity to protect Europe from feared ballistic missile attacks, Wired magazine reported on Thursday.