Thursday, February 14, 2008

Third European component of the missile shield

General Henry Obering, head of the Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency, mentioned that the United States hopes to put a third major anti-missile component in Europe. In addition to the bases in Poland and the Czech Republic, this third leg will involve a highly mobile X-band radar station (FBX-T).

Reuters called the plans of stationing a third leg of the missile shield in Europe “previously unannounced”. Maybe the Reuters folk should spend more time on their research: MDA outlined already in 2005 its plans to have by 2009 three FXB-T radars: one each in East Asia, the Caucasus and Europe. The East Asian site is already established in northern Japan at an air base near the village of Shariki.

There are contradictory statements on which country in the Caucasus region will host the FBX-T radar: On the Armscontrolwonk blog one can read the assumption that it will be either Georgia or Azerbaijan. Some officials say that Georgia or the other Caucasus countries are excluded, the U.S. Ambassador to Georgia specifically said that his country has no plans to station any element of its future missile defense system in Georgia, while an MDA spokesperson told Jane's the region would be a "good location”. Other sources consider a site close to the capital of Azerbaijan, Baku, to be the optimal choice. For details take a look at the comprehensive Federation of American Scientists’ “Sourcebook on an American Forward-Based Missile Defense Radar in the Caucasus”.

While referring to the third leg of the European components of the missile shield, General Obering said that the FBX-T radar would go in southeastern Europe, possibly in Turkey, the Caucasus or the Caspian Sea region. In other words: “all options are on the table”.

Coming back to Putin’s concerns of Ukraine hosting parts of the U.S. missile shield:

The FBX-T radar is designed to first detect a ballistic missile as close as possible to the country of origin in order to acquire targets in the boost phase. During the OSCE’s Annual Security Review Conference Dennis Mays, Deputy Director for Systems Engineering and Integration Chief Engineer, MDA, mentioned that the European part of the missile shield would contain a “forward based radar located about a 1,000 kilometers from the ballistic missile threat”. The closest distance between the Ukraine and Iran is already at the limit of this range. A radar stationed in the Ukraine could cover the Balkan states, Eastern Europe, the Caucasus, and bits of Russia and Kazakhstan. This would hardly provide any benefit for the U.S. missile shield – unless the Wag the Dog assumption is true and Albania is indeed the secret arch-enemy of the United States. Considering the potential trajectories of ICBMs launched by the current leader of the “Top 10 Rogue States” list, it makes most sense to station a FBX-T radar somewhere in the Caucasus and not in Europe. Therefore it is highly unlikely that the Ukraine – or any other country in north-western direction – will be chosen as a host for a FBX-T radar.

However, this raises the question if the overall number of FBX-T radar sites has been reduced from three to two, one in Japan and the other on the territory of one of Iran’s northern neighbors, i.e. the European and the Caucasus base are one and the same. Such a base could be counted as the third “European” leg, if an extended definition of Europe is being used.

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