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  • Phased Adaptive Confusion
    Posted by Bill Sweetman 6:36 AM on Oct 29, 2009

    Warsaw turned out to be a prescient site choice for a conference on European air and missile defense, organized by Defense IQ. Talking about advanced technology in the restored 19th-century grandeur of the Bristol Meridien might seem out of place, but the diplomatic and strategic complexity of missile defense issues would have kept Bismarck and Palmerston amused for hours.

    The issue is what seem to be gaps and inconsistencies in the White House's new "phased, adaptive approach" missile defense policy for Europe, announced on September 17. The administration scuppered the Bush-era plan to place a third site for Boeing Ground-Based Interceptor (GBI) missiles in Poland, with a radar in the Czech republic, in favor of an approach based on land-based versions of the US-Japanese anti-missile versions of the Standard Missile 3.

    It's "phased" because it starts with in-service sea-based missiles and evolves towards a new high-performance SM-3 Block IIB, in land bases, by 2020. It's adaptive because that process can be slowed or accelerated according to the development of the Iranian missile threat.

    But as one very experienced observer here - with no corporate dog in this fight - pointed out, the public statement that the change was driven by changes in the threat, and that the new system will be more cost-effective, doesn't hold water. "The idea is that the Iranians are moving faster than expected on short- and medium-range missiles, and slower on ICBMs, but that doesn't make sense," he says, pointing out that the technology in all the weapons is much the same.

    Also, he points out, the new system will require multiple launchers to cover Europe, while the Bush solution - with its long-range interceptors - covered most of the theatre from one site. "We've never found that to be a more cost-effective approach", he says.

    Rather, he suggests, it's all about the Russians - and speed. The critical number with a missile defense interceptor is its speed, which determines what kind of missiles it can hit. "Above 4 kilometers/second, the Russians think it's strategic." The SM-3, even in the Block II version, comes in at or around that limit.

    Also critical of the system is Boeing, which points out that if the ICBM or IRBM threat accelerate, the SM-3 program will take time to respond. The company is here pitching a trailer-mounted two-stage interceptor (the same missile originally planned for Poland) as an insurance policy against that event. The missiles would be kept in the US, but a site with revetments, launch stands, power and communications would be maintained in Europe near an air base, allowing C-17s to deliver the missiles within 24 hours. But, as someone pointed out, if you have a full-blown missile crisis going, the last thing you want to do is give the adversary a 24-hour window to shoot you before you have your guard up.

    Not too many simple answers. But then it's diplomacy, and we're in Warsaw - the pivot of so many insoluble European questions over the centuries - so that may be too much to ask for.

    Tags: ar99, missile defense, Warsaw

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