This story first appeared in Aerospace Daily’s Defense Technology International and is written by Michael A. Taverna.
NATO members appear ready to approve deployment of a territorial ballistic missile defense (BMD) network in Europe, although the scope of the European contribution is uncertain.
At a missile defense conference here last week, experts from both sides of the Atlantic agreed that the Phased Adaptive Approach (PAA) adopted by the Obama administration facilitates a change in the NATO view. (3AF, the French aeronautics and astronautics society, organized the event.) The alliance has studied the feasibility of transforming its Active Layered Theater BMD (ALTBMD) into a system capable of defending European territory, but has so far not embraced the concept of territorial BMD.
The PAA strategy envisions deploying sea-based SM-3 Block 1A interceptors and AN/TYP-2 X-band radars capable of meeting short- and medium-range threats starting next year, and gradually adding land-based SM-3s and incremental upgrades to improve the system’s capability as the threat evolves (AW&ST Sept. 21, 2009, p. 22). The objective is for PAA to be able to counter intermediate-range missiles by 2018 and to afford some protection against ICBMs by the end of the decade. The approach is premised on the sharp growth in the quantity and quality of short- and medium-range missiles able to threaten Europe, and the likelihood that long-range missiles capable of reaching the U.S. will not emerge as a real threat until later.
The NATO territorial missile defense plan, known as ALTBMD Capability 2, would enable various short- and medium-range interceptors and sensors to be federated around an improved version of the alliance’s Air Command and Control System (ACCS). It could be fielded around 2017-18. “By shifting the focus from long-range to regional short- and medium-range threats, the new U.S. plan better matches the European view,” says Patrick Auroy, deputy head of the French armaments agency (DGA).
The consensus at the conference was that the alliance will take advantage of its next summit in Lisbon this fall to endorse BMD. “Parameters have changed since Strasbourg,” says Richard Froh, NATO’s deputy assistant secretary general for armaments, referring to the last NATO summit in France, when various factors, including the lack of a firm U.S. position, kept missile defense off the agenda. “With the threat increasingly visible, especially from Iran, it’s no longer a question of whether BMD is desirable, but how to make it work and affordable.”
The U.S. proposes to make PAA the fulcrum of the NATO capability as part of a broad cooperative BMD effort that could ultimately encompass Russia as well as Europe. On Feb. 4, Romania became the third NATO member, after Poland and the Czech Republic, to agree to host interceptor and radar sites. “We are not asking NATO nations to fund [PAA], remarks Frank Rose, deputy assistant secretary of State for defense policy and verification operations. “We are just asking them to fully fund ALTBMD and ACCS and the modifications needed for Capability 2.”
However, with NATO in a funding crisis precipitated by the war in Afghanistan, Rose acknowledges it will be difficult for the alliance to find the money. Indeed, funding shortages have already held up final contracts needed to bring ALTBMD to an initial operating capability, planned for the end of 2010, and NATO heads recently had to work out supplemental funding and economy measures.