BY KYLE D. CLAPHAM
NATO declared limited operational capability of its European ballistic missile defense and affirmed a timetable for future deployments during the alliance’s gathering in Chicago this month, but the organization failed to address key concerns about the system’s radars and antimissile development.
“It is the first step towards our long-term goal of providing full coverage and protection for all NATO European populations, territory and forces,” NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said during the alliance’s meetings in Chicago. “Our system will link together missile defense assets from different Allies—satellites, ships, radars and interceptors—under NATO command and control. It will allow us to defend against threats from outside the Euro-Atlantic area.”
NATO accepted the timetable for European Phased Adaptive Approach, including the placement of upgraded versions of Standard Missile-3, the system’s primary interceptor, on land in Romania by 2015 and in Poland by 2018.
However, important questions about the missile shield, modeled after Aegis, the sea-based component of the Missile Defense Agency’s Ballistic Missile Defense System, were not resolved.
For one, EPAA radars do not have the range to support the system, the Defense Science Board concluded in September 2011. “Radars of much more substantial operating range than the current radar on Aegis ships will be necessary for the full realization of a robust regional defense,” the DSB report said.
But DSB Chairman Dr. Paul Kaminski disregarded these findings in his recommendations to the under secretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics. “Overall, the task force finds the basic components of our inventory today, namely Aegis ships with radars and long-range interceptor missiles, is well suited as a foundation for the planned regional defense mission outlined in the Phased Adaptive Approach, including the defense of Europe,” Kaminski wrote.
Two physicists, George N. Lewis at Cornell University and Theodore A. Postol, from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, highlighted the disconnect between DSB research and Kaminski’s assessment of its report in a November 2011 letter to National Security Advisor Thomas E. Donilon.
“The Department of Defense has in effect admitted that they don’t have adequate radars for this system,” said Postol, a former adviser to the chief of Naval operations, in a telephone interview. “How is it possible that the Department of Defense recommended this system to the president without having made sure the radars are up to the job?”
The EPAA timetable roughly corresponds to when Raytheon, the manufacturer of SM-3, expects to finish developing and testing increasingly capable versions of the antimissile. But the U.S. Government Accountability Office found this synchronization disconcerting after studying MDA results for 2011.
“Committing to product development before requirements are understood and technologies mature or committing to production and fielding before development is complete is a high-risk strategy that often results in performance shortfalls, unexpected cost increases, schedule delays and test problems,” GAO said in its report.
The EPAA timetable leaves no margin for error, Lewis said in a telephone interview. “If anything goes wrong, they’re going to be delayed,” he said. “They could end up being delayed by many years if they have any serious testing problems.”
The SM-3 Block IB, the cornerstone of EPAA’s next phase, failed its first test last September before successfully knocking out its target in a subsequent test earlier this month. The SM-3 Block IIB, a faster interceptor planned for EPAA Phase IV, already has been pushed back a year to 2021, said Yousaf Butt, a nuclear physicist and consultant to the Federation of American Scientists.