Monday, June 16, 2008

Missile Defense Monitor

Missile defense developments to report over the past two weeks include:

1) On June 5, MDA conducted a successful test of a component of its Aegis BMD system. Unlike the part of the Navy’s Aegis system that uses an SM-3 “hit-to-kill” interceptor to destroy short- to intermediate-range targets during the midcourse phase of their flight, last week’s test of the Sea-Based Terminal (SBT) system used two SM-2 Block IV interceptors, which use blast fragmentation warheads, to destroy a short-range missile during the terminal phase of its flight.

MDA first demonstrated the ability to target short-range ballistic missiles using the SM-2 Block IV interceptor against short-range missiles during a test in May 2006, and hopes to field an initial SBT capability on 18 Aegis BMD ships sometime in FY 2009.

Overall, the Aegis system has now been successful on 12 out of 14 tests since 2002. The most recent success prompted the skipper of the ship from which the SM-2 Block IV’s were launched, the USS Lake Erie, to proclaim, “I am suffering from post-shot euphoria.” Maybe I’ll catch the same malady when I attend Northrop Grumman’s Kinetic Energy Interceptor (KEI) demonstration at the end of June!

2) During a visit to Washington this week, Czech foreign minister Karel Schwarzenberg stated that approval of the U.S. proposal to place a missile defense radar in the Czech Republic could be defeated by widespread Czech public opposition.

As yours truly has repeatedly reminded all you missile defense wonks out there (see here for proof), any agreement must be ratified by the Czech parliament (and perhaps even survive a public referendum). Though Secretary Rice is scheduled to sign an agreement on June 10 during a visit to Prague, it’s looking increasingly likely that the U.S. will have to find another destination for its radar.

3) During a meeting of NATO defense ministers in Brussels on Thursday and Friday, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is expected to press NATO members to agree on options for a NATO missile defense system. The long-range anti-missile system the U.S. hopes to deploy in the Czech Republic and Poland would not cover large swaths of southeastern Europe in range of Iranian short- to intermediate-range ballistic missiles, including parts of Bulgaria, Greece, Romania, and almost all of Turkey.

Nine NATO countries are currently working on an Active Layered Theatre Ballistic Missile Defence (ALTBMD) system, which is designed to allow NATO countries to coordinate their response to an attack via short- to intermediate range missiles. The system is slated to become “initially operational” by 2010.

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