Friday, June 27, 2008

THAAD test and the necessity of the Eastern European GMD bases

The United States successfully conducted an interceptor test of their Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system. In contrast to the Patriot system, which was tested earlier this month, the THAAD is not designed to hit the incoming warheads just before impact but operates on a longer range. It acts as the upper tier of a basic two-tiered defense against ballistic missiles that intercepts missiles during late mid-course or final stage flight.

The test on Wednesday was brought closer to real-life situations than it was the case during earlier launches:

To add realism to the test, personnel operating the THAAD system were not told when the target would be launched. They also for the first time used a semiautomatic mode to manually fire on the warhead.

Six minutes after the simulated missile launch, the mobile THAAD firing battery fired an interceptor from the Pacific Missile Range Facility near the island of Kauai. The interceptor successfully locked onto the target, traced its path and performed a “hit-to-kill” interception, destroying the mock missile with the force of its impact.

Maybe the need to get THAAD closer to real-life situation will increase even more. The Aviation Week writes that Capitol Hill denizens are increasingly debating whether the U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA) should alter its research and spending priorities to better address more immediate concerns than defending against a long-range strike. According to these plans theater-based missile defenses provided by the THAAD and Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) systems would be emphasized while the ground-based midcourse defense in Europe would be de-emphasized.

Speaking of GMD: I had the chance to attend a very interesting two-day conference titled “Missile Defense, Russia and the Middle East – Coping with Transatlantic Divergence – Exploring Common Solutions” organized by the Peace Research Institute Frankfurt. During the presentations one especially interesting point was made: according to non-quotable sources, MDA officials acknowledged that their GMD radar in Adak, Alaska, could deal with a hypothetical Iranian ICBM-threat! A certain upgrade would be necessary but no insurmountable obstacles exist. In other words: the radar base the United States hopes to set up in Brdy, Czech Republic is NOT necessary to track missiles that Iran might fly in some distant future across the Big Pond. So the question arises why does the United States insist on the construction of the base? Coincidentally, the next conference speaker used a map depicting five Russian missile bases that are in range of the interceptors that are planned to be based in Poland (or Lithuania)… Is the roaring Russian bear in the end right with its concerns that the European bases are intended to keep Russia in check?

We will have some time to gather more information on this issue. The NTI Newswire reported on Monday that the interceptor base faces a possible delay. The interceptors intended to be deployed would use two-stage booster rockets while the U.S.-based rockets have three stages. That difference means previous testing is required. Officials speak of at least three tests. MDA hopes to finish the tests before the beginning of 2011 which is a very ambitious aim. Washington had set a 2013 deadline to finish the whole system. Some defense experts expect that Pentagon will miss that date by up to five years.

Another delay looms: Czech opposition has gathered over 100,000 signatures in support of a proposal to hold a national referendum on the placement of the U.S. early-warning radar in the Czech Republic, an opposition spokesperson said on Thursday. Over 60% of the Czech population oppose the radar plans.

Andrew Thompson wrote for the Zurich ISN a commentary titled “Under the Radar”. He provides a great summary of the critical issues and the Czech Republic’s internal debate. Thompson brings up a very interesting point, which I have not read anywhere else:
One such scenario entails the suggested provision of Social-Democratic support for radar in exchange for approval of the EU Treaty of Lisbon by the Euroskeptic Civic Democrats. The political viability and realistic feasibility of such a complex deal and compromise package, however, is far from certain and already faces many questions.
A saying goes that NATO was founded to “Keep the Americans in, Soviets out and Germans down”. So what is this Czech Lisbon-radar deal about? Keeping the EU afloat, letting the Americans in and keeping Iranians / Russians down? However, it remains highly questionable if U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice who is scheduled to come to Prague on the morning of Tuesday, July 8, will be able to sign a deal on the radar base – a base that is not required to counter a potential future Iranian threat!

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