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Missile Defense Briefing Report - No. 271

Edited by Ilan Berman
April 28, 2010

The Obama administration is facing stiff criticism in Congress over its missile defense plans. Since taking office last January, the Administration has cancelled plans for ground-based interceptors in Poland and the Czech Republic and reduced funding for the same in the United States in favor of the gradual deployment of missile defenses abroad. The current plan involves the near-term deployment of short- and medium-range interceptors in Europe, and the subsequent development of sea-based long-range interceptors to defend the Old Continent. Defense of the U.S. homeland, however, will only emerge significantly later – by 2020, when existing ground-based missile defenses already emplaced in California and Alaska will be bolstered to better protect the continental United States.
The April 22nd Politico reports that those priorities have riled Congressional lawmakers, who are reviving their opposition to the Obama plan in the wake of a Pentagon report on Iranian military power that envisions and Iranian ICBM capability by mid-decade. House Armed Services Committee member Representative Michael Turner, for example, has worried publicly that the President’s plan “is not designed to protect our homeland until 2020” – a full five years after a nascent Iranian long-range missile capability could emerge.

The shape of future deployment, moreover, is further complicated by the new START treaty just signed by Russia and the United States. Despite official protestations to the contrary, that document contains both implicit and explicit curbs on U.S. missile defense development, something which has riled Congressional proponents of missile defense..

President Obama is set to revive Prompt Global Strike, a controversial missile program proposed during the administration of George W. Bush,
the April 26th edition of the Homeland Security Newswire reports. The plan was conceived to allow the military to strike anywhere in the world in a matter of minutes by arming intercontinental ballistic missiles with conventional payloads. Proponents argue that the ability to strike quickly is essential when dealing with fast-moving terrorist targets. However, the plan raises concerns that the use of ICBMs to deliver conventional weapons could be mistaken for a nuclear launch. According to Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, such a misunderstanding could “provoke a full-scale counterattack using strategic nuclear forces.” The Administration’s proposal eschews a focus on submarine-based launches in favor of ground-based installations, in hopes that international inspections under such an arrangement would allay concerns among foreign powers and prevent a catastrophic misunderstanding.

The U.S. Navy may soon position ships equipped with missile defense systems in European ports to help protect the continent from ballistic missile attack.
Navy Times (April 19) reports that Admiral Mark Fitzgerald, commander of Naval Forces Europe, put the option on the table while discussing naval operations around Europe with reporters. One possible scenario now being discussed by U.S. planners, according to Fitzgerald, is the possibility of basing ships in forward positions in the Eastern Mediterranean and Black Sea – a deployment that would allow the Navy to protect against Iran’s current ballistic missile capabilities. The notional plan, however, faces significant practical hurdles, including questions about command coordination between U.S. and European officials in a crisis, and the questionable availability of ships. Patrols in the North and Baltic Seas could also become part of the plan, depending on the development of Iran’s missile program. “We’re going to have to pace the threat. Whatever the range of the threat is, that’s where we’ll put the ships,” Fitzgerald has said.

U.S. Patriot missiles are now slated to arrive in Poland in late May, nearly two months behind schedule.
According to Reuters (April 21), the promised Patriot battery and its crew of 100 will arrive in the Polish town of Morag around May 24th. Moscow has expressed its displeasure with the planned deployment, which would position U.S. troops close to the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad. The missiles will play a largely symbolic role however, as their primary purpose is to facilitate joint U.S.-Polish training. They will also provide an answer to long-standing Polish complaints that no U.S. military installations have been established on its soil since the country’s admission to NATO.

Related Categories: Europe; Russia; Missile Defense; Missile Defense And Proliferation Project

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