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Protecting America in the New Missile Age


Missile Defense Quick Links for Thursday

September 9th, 2010

— National security consultant David J. Trachtenberg wrote an article for the Center for Defense Studies on stopping new START. An excerpt:

“Writing in today’s Wall Street Journal, former Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security and AEI Senior Fellow John Bolton scores a direct hit on the New START treaty. He correctly notes that the treaty’s limits on launchers will force trade-offs that constrain the U.S. ability to deploy conventional prompt global strike capabilities. ‘We will pay for this mistake in future conflicts entirely unrelated to Russia,’ he warns.

“Indeed, while the Obama Administration is looking to develop prompt global strike capabilities to maintain American conventional military dominance and enable further U.S. nuclear reductions, the Nuclear Posture Review acknowledges that they ‘would be accountable under the [New START] Treaty.'”

— On Tuesday, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen met with President Barack Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and others, and missile defense was one of the topics discussed. From Aviation Week:

“Rasmussen says the funding required is a ‘modest additional cost to achieve so much.’ He spoke with U.S. press during a Defense Writers Group breakfast Sept. 7 in Washington…A decision on whether and how to proceed on missile defense will be on the agenda during the forthcoming NATO summit in Lisbon in November. Rasmussen says that because of the shared potential enemy of Iran, NATO’s deployments of technology would be needed in line with the timeline laid out by U.S. President Barack Obama. He has proposed the Phased Adaptive Approach, which is incrementally fielding defenses through 2020.”

— U.S. defense contractor Raytheon was awarded a $165.3 million contract for work on the SM-3 Block IIA missile.

Russia Still Opposes Missile Shields in Europe

July 13th, 2010

When President Barack Obama dropped Bush-era plans to deploy missile shields to Poland and the Czech Republic, no one who knows the country and its leaders expected them to be satisfied, perhaps for good reason. Obama’s plan wasn’t to cease all missile defense plans in the region; he wanted to establish a different kind of system. An excerpt:

“Last fall, Washington announced that it was scrapping a Bush-era program for missile defense in favor of a “phased adaptive approach” that would entail fielding sea- and land-based version of the Standard Missile 3 interceptor around the continent as a hedge against potential short- and medium-range missiles fired from Iran. Moscow has worried that the location of shield infrastructure in nations along its borders would threaten the Russian nuclear deterrent.

“The Obama administration has sought to alleviate these worries by inviting Moscow to participate in European missile defense efforts. Nesterenko, however said that it ‘it seems the American side … has begun deploying elements of its missile defense system based on its own decisions and not joint ones.'”

Russia’s spokesman Andrei Nesterenko accused the U.S. of failing to take Russia’s opposition to the shields into consideration. In an attempt to ease Russia’s concerns, the administration seeks the former Soviet Union’s participation in the plans. So far, the U.S. has sent Patriot missile interceptors to Poland near the Russia border, and Romania earlier this year agreed to host missile interceptors. The purpose of the missile shields is to defend against Iran.

To that assertion, Nesterenko said, “We are certain that missile threats to Europe that would require the deployment of a missile defense system on Russia’s borders do not exist now and are not foreseen in the future.”

Source: RIA Novosti

Secretary Hillary Clinton on Romanian Missile Defense

June 2nd, 2010

In February, Romania announced its willingness to host U.S. SM-3 missile interceptors as part of President Barack Obama’s new missile defense plan. These missiles will be in place to defend against attacks from Iran, but once again, Russia believes their purpose is offensive.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the U.S. broke its promise to keep the Kremlin abreast of its missile defense developments in the region, and NATO representative Dmitri Rogozin asked, “How can we stay calm when alien military infrastructure, U.S. military infrastructure, has come to the Black Sea area?” (Source)

The missile interceptors will be deployed to Romania by 2015.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently held a press conference with Romanian Foreign Minister Teodor Baconschi to mark the 130th anniversary of diplomacy between Romania and the U.S. An excerpt of her remarks (emphasis added):

“The United States and Romania are also allies through NATO, and our shared commitment to the mutual defense of the alliance is unwavering. We are very pleased Romania has agreed to host elements of the phased adaptive approach to missile defense in Europe as we pursue this shared goal. This decision highlights the seriousness with which Romania approaches its role in NATO and its commitment to enhancing global security. Romanian troops have served their country with honor and distinction around the world, particularly in Iraq and Afghanistan, and they are helping to move those countries toward a future of peace and stability. We mourn and grieve with the people of Romania over the losses that your nation has sustained, Mr. Minister, in this cause, but we thank you for your ongoing, stalwart commitment.”

Missile Defense Agency and Skeptics Clash Over SM-3

May 21st, 2010

Missile defense skeptics Theodore A. Postol and George N. Lewis disagree with the Pentagon’s assessment of the effectiveness of the Standard Missile 3 (SM-3) interceptor.

The New York Times cited Postol’s and Lewis’s article that the SM-3’s success rate is lower than the Pentagon claims.

While Postol and Lewis applaud President Barack Obama for scrapping Bush-era plans to deploy missile defense shields to Poland and the Czech Republic, they’re critical of his missile defense plan to counter short- and medium-range missiles with the SM-3.

The authors and the Pentagon agree that the SM-3 interceptor must hit a missile’s attached warhead—and not merely the body of the missile—to destroy the weapon. They diverge on the success rate. The Pentagon maintains that SM-3’s interception rate is 84 percent, while Postol and Lewis say it’s only between 10 to 20 percent.

Missile Defense Agency spokesman Richard Lehner responded to the critics at

“The allegation that target intercepts were reported as successful when they were not successful is wrong, and the data presented by the authors in the article is flawed, inaccurate and misleading.

“In each successful intercept test the target missile was destroyed by the Aegis BMD/SM-3 system due to the extreme kinetic energy resulting from the ‘hit to kill’ intercept. In each instance, the mission objective of ‘hit to kill’ of the unitary or separating target was achieved.

“Postol and Lewis apparently based their assessment on publicly released photos gleaned from a sensor mounted aboard the SM-3 and postulated what they perceived to be the interceptor’s impact point although they had no access to classified telemetry data showing the complete destruction of the target missiles, or subsequent sensor views of the intercept that were not publicly released so as not to reveal to potential adversaries exactly where the target missile was struck.

“Actually, the publicly released videos, which can be seen at, and from which the still photos were extracted, show infrared images from both interceptor and airborne sensors demonstrating the complete destruction of the target missiles.”

Ballistic Missile Defense Review Report

February 4th, 2010

Iran North Korea missiles

The Department of Defense (DOD) has released its Ballistic Missile Defense Review, conducted from March 2009 through January 2010. Download the 61-page report in PDF.

In assessing the ballistic missile threat around the world, DOD found the threat to be growing. As technology improves, missiles are becoming more accurate and farther-reaching. Ballistic missile systems are also more flexible and mobile. These trends are particularly disturbing as rogue states continue developing long-range weapons and nuclear capability. Last year, Iran test-fired the long-range Sajjil-2 missile, capable of reaching Israel and Southern Europe. Intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) have a longer range than the Sajjil.

“There is some uncertainty about when and how this type of [ICBM] threat to the U.S. homeland will mature,” states the report, “but there is no uncertainty about the existence of regional threats. They are clear and present. The threat from short-range, medium-range, and intermediate-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs, MRBMs, and IRBMs) in regions where the United States deploys forces and maintains security relationships is growing at a particularly rapid pace.”

DOD’s recommended priorities for the U.S. include testing new capabilities before deployment, testing under realistic operational conditions, and adapting as threats shift.

DOD contends that the Ground-based Midcourse Defense presently protects the U.S. against ICBM attacks from Iran and North Korea. To maintain this “advantageous position” as the threat grows, DOD says the U.S. will:

“Maintain readiness and continue to develop existing operational capabilities at Fort Greely, Alaska, and Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.

“Complete the second field of 14 silos at Fort Greely to hedge against the possibility that additional deployments become necessary.

“Deploy new sensors in Europe to improve cueing for missiles launched at the United States by Iran or other potential adversaries in the Middle East.

“Invest in further development of the Standard Missile 3 (SM-3) for future land-based deployment as the ICBM threat matures.

“Increase investments in sensors and early-intercept kill systems to help defeat missile defense countermeasures.

“Pursue a number of new GMD system enhancements, develop next generation missile defense capabilities, and advance other hedging strategies including continued development and assessment of a two-stage ground-based interceptor.”

Some experts question the report’s conclusions. For example, the Heritage Foundation’s Baker Spring believes the threat to the homeland could well be more imminent, which leaves the U.S. vulnerable to strategic surprises and risks the lives of millions of Americans. Our solutions and strategies should be more immediate rather than future oriented.

Bill Sweetman on Missile Defense

December 8th, 2009

GBIBill Sweetman, editor of Aviation Week, published an article on missile defense changes under the current administration.

“First was the shift in emphasis from mid-course defeat to ‘early intercept’ and from heavy ground-based interceptors (GBIs) to sea-based and land-based versions of the U.S. Navy/Raytheon SM-3,” he writes. “Nobody was surprised when this was followed in September by the scrapping of plans to install Boeing’s GBIs in Poland and announcement of a phased adaptive approach (PAA) based on SM-3.”

Sweetman says rapid changes in our approach has NATO allies uncertain whether the U.S. is “sensitive” to their concerns. Changes have also caused confusion over the nationality of the commander on the scene during an interception.

“The [phased adaptive approach] PAA is in four phases, determined by a new assessment of the threat (principally from Iran) that downplays the imminence of long-range missile development. Phase 1 in 2011 will derive from the current sea-based SM-3 Block 1A, with “engage-on-remote” guidance from TPY-2 radar. Land-based SM-3 Block 1B missiles (with a new kill vehicle) will be added in Phase 2 in 2015 to expand the defended area, along with new sensors, possibly airborne infrared devices. The big-booster Block IIA SM-3 arrives in Phase 3 in 2018, followed two years later by the Block IIB, a further development—possibly spawned from the U.S. Missile Defense Agency’s classified budget—which has some capability against intercontinental missiles.

“One question is how these phases mesh with European NATO plans. NATO is following a three-track approach to missile defense: continued assessment of the U.S. PAA, exploration of cooperation with Russia and NATO’s Active Layered Theater Ballistic Missile Defense (ALTBMD) program, which is aimed at protecting deployed forces from weapons up to 3,000 km. (1,865 mi.) in range.”

Read the full article here.

Japan Shoots Down Missile

October 29th, 2009

Japan navy

Facing North Korean missile threats, Japan’s navy is incorporating Aegis capabilities as part of its defense. Although it’s imperative that Japan strengthens its missile defense, the country’s new government leaders didn’t sound too concerned last month.

“Missile defense is almost totally useless,” said politician Tsuyoshi Yamaguchi. “Only one or two out of 100 are ever effective.” (Source)

Fortunately, Japan’s military doesn’t see it that way. Its navy successfully shot down a missile yesterday off Hawaii. A destroyer detected, tracked, and shot down the medium-range missile while in flight with an SM-3 interceptor rocket. (MDA – PDF)

The missile test, called the Japan Flight Test Mission 3 (JFTM-3), is part of an Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense intercept flight test, and it’s the third time a Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force ship successfully shot down a ballistic missile target.

“The JFTM-3 test event verified the newest engagement capability of the Japan Aegis BMD configuration of the recently upgraded Japanese destroyer, JS MYOKO (DDG-175),” according to the press release. “At approximately 6:00pm (HST), 1:00 pm Tokyo time on Oct 28, a separating, medium-range ballistic missile target was launched from the Pacific Missile Range Facility, Barking Sands, Kauai, Hawaii. JS MYOKO crew members detected and tracked the target. The Aegis Weapon System then developed a fire control solution and, at approximately 6:04pm (HST), 1:04 pm Tokyo time a Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) Block IA interceptor missile was launched.”

Equipped with the Aegis radar system, the destroyer will take on addition SM-3 receptors before returning to Japan. The Obama administration said the U.S. will use SM-3 interceptors and Aegis radar as part of the new missile shield plan.

(Image source: Wikimedia Commons)

Peter Brookes on New Missile Shield Plan

October 27th, 2009

Peter BrookesLast week, Vice President Joe Biden visited Poland and the Czech Republic, the first such visit to the region by a high-level official since the President Barack Obama dropped plans to deploy missile defense shields to those countries. The Heritage Foundation‘s Peter Brookes commented on the new missile defense shield plan proposed by the administration.

“In pulling the plug on the Bush missile-defense plan in Eastern Europe last month,” Brookes writes in the New York Post, “the White House came up with a new architecture based on a new evaluation of existing intelligence on the Iranian ballistic-missile threat…The Pentagon now insists Iran is moving faster on its short- and medium-range ballistic-missile programs than on its long-range ICBM effort, against which the Czech and Polish sites were aimed. (Of course, many experts think progress in one missile program supports another.)”

The new plan may protect Europe, but what about the Iranian threat to the U.S. and Israel? Land-based SM-3 missiles, designed to protect us and our ally, are in development. The target date for completion is 2020, but Iran could have an intercontinental ballistic missile by 2015.

“[T]he Obama administration thinks that if the Iranian ICBM comes online before the land-based SM-3s are developed and in place, the West Coast, Bush-era missile-defense sites give us some breathing room…Not really.”

Brookes notes that the “West Coast” system was created to protect us from North Korea, not Iran. Sites that would protect us from Iran (in Alaska and California) may not be adequate, especially since the administration reduced interceptors at those sites.

“That means there’s a gap in our defenses against an Iranian ICBM strike until the land-based SM-3s are operational, which, by the way, will almost certainly face funding and engineering-development challenges.”

Other problems with the new plan are cost, efficiency, and concerns that Russia will once again “negotiate” with the U.S. to curb development of another weapon.

“It’s…a good time to remind ourselves that the purpose of defense is to be technologically ahead of the threat, not behind it — which is where we’ll be if we’re not careful,” Brookes writes.

Read the full article at the New York Post.

Patriots to Poland?

October 19th, 2009

PatriotReuters reports that Poland may be in the running to receive missile interceptors under President Barack Obama’s new missile defense plan.

Poland and the Czech Republic were surprised (to put it mildly) when the president dropped plans to deploy missile interceptors and radar to the region. He purportedly intends to focus on systems that will defend against Iran’s shorter-range missiles rather than long-range.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense Alexander Vershbow told reporters at a briefing to Polish officials that the U.S. will deploy sea-based and SM-3 interceptors to Poland that would target short-range missiles.

Vershbow said the new plan will be “more flexible” than President George Bush’s plan and will allay Russia’s concerns about long-range missile interceptors.

No doubt Poland and the Czech Republic feel betrayed by the U.S. and resentful toward Russia’s dominance. Poland tried to assert itself, and the U.S. reneged. But Poland may get something even better. Polish Undersecretary of State for Defence Stanislaw Komorowski said his country would bring a U.S. battery of Patriot missiles.

Agreed to in August 2008, the battery would be based permanently in Poland in 2012. We suspect Russia will object to this agreement as well.

Boeing’s Mobile Interceptor

August 25th, 2009

U.S. defense contractor Boeing has developed a mobile Ground-Based Interceptor (GBI), which would provide more flexiblity in planning and implementating missile defense shields in Europe. By now it’s well-known that President Barack Obama is hesitant to go through with plans to build missile defense shields in Poland and the Czech Republic. Perhaps he’d be more amenable to a temporary and mobile system like the GBI. (Source)

Although the shields would protect the region from Iranian attacks, Russia claims they would be a threat to its national defense. Neither country’s parliament has ratified the agreements.

Last week we mentioned that Raytheon was developing a land-based SM-3 missile for Israel to use in the event of an attack from Iran. Part of the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System, the SM-3 is a ship-based anti-ballistic missile. An SM-3 successfully hit its target in space last week. Perhaps Boeing’s GBI could be used for Israel’s defense as well.