Saturday, August 22, 2009

Missile defense farrago

A report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office, released on August 6, comes to the conclusion that the cost of building and operating the controversial U.S. anti-ballistic missile sites in Europe could substantially exceed the original estimate:

After reviewing several proposed missile-defense sites in Eastern Europe, the Army Corps of Engineers has determined that initial construction estimates for sites in the Czech Republic and Poland for $837 million are unrealistic, and that "almost $1.2 billion" is a more accurate figure.
The GAO report does not only come up with its own assessment but also contains also some homework for the Pentagonians: it urges them to develop "accurate, realistic, and complete cost estimates for military construction and operations and support for ballistic missile defenses in Europe”. For more details see the post over at the Nukes of Hazard blog. If you want to put the spending into a historical context you might want to take a look at this chart.

Recently the Obama administration has proposed to emphasize battlefield missile defenses over systems for intercepting strategic ballistic missiles. This would save money while potentially making it more vulnerable to future attack, says a report published yesterday by a Washington-based defense think tank. For more details see NTI’s GSN.

Costs are not the only issue that raises concerns. A group of U.S. and Russian scientists from the East West Institute say that the proposed missile defense shield deployed in Central Europe would be ineffective.

These are some of the reasons why the Obama administration is currently reviewing the plans to field 10 ground-based interceptors in Poland and a radar station in the Czech Republic. The major U.S. defense contractors use this time to offer new toys out of their toolbox.

Raytheon proposed to develop a land-based variant of the SM-3 interceptor originally designed for use on warships by 2013. This interceptor would target short- and medium-range missiles from land. Raytheon also already a scenario for the deployment of the new interceptor:
The U.S. Defense Department is considering the proposed system for inclusion in a European missile shield, according to Raytheon leaders. Russia has long opposed a proposal to field in Poland ground-based interceptors that could target its ICBMs, making SM-3 interceptors a potentially more acceptable alternative for countering an Iranian long-range missile threat.
This seems to be only Raytheon’s viewpoint. U.S. Strategic Command head Gen. Kevin Chilton did not specify whether the Pentagon was considering an SM-3 system as a replacement for the proposed ground-based interceptors.

Raytheon’s rival Boeing has something else to offer: The United States could temporarily place a mobile ground-based missile interceptor in Europe as protection from a potential long-range missile threat, U.S. defense contractor Boeing Co. recommended.
By 2015, Boeing could prepare a two-stage, 47,500-pound interceptor that could be transported by C-17 cargo aircraft and deployed at a NATO site on a trailer-based launch platform, [Boeing vice president and general manager for missile defense]Hyslop said. The interceptor could be fielded within 24 hours and then removed when the missile threat abates, he said.
While these alternative ideas do the rounds and the future of the missile base is still uncertain – the U.S.-Polish agreement has not been ratified by the Polish parliament nor agreed by President Obama - Poland is convinced that another deal will put into effect. Polish Defense Minister Bogdan Klich said yesterday that the first battery of U.S. Patriot missile will be deployed in Poland either this year or next.
“We are negotiating with the Americans and we are getting closer to a conclusion. I hope we will make the final decision in the autumn. There are still some controversial points, but the number of those is decreasing,” Bogdan Klich told Polish Radio.
The agreement to supply Poland with Patriots as was signed in 2008 but in official statements the idea that the delivery was a form of payment for hosting the interceptor base was rejected.
All these issues are no reason for the Missile Defense Agency not to come up with new plans. MDA Director Patrick O’Reilly predicts that the United States will significantly improve its ability to track incoming ballistic missiles from space by 2016:
Currently, U.S. sensors […] are providing data as soon as a ballistic missile boosts after launch. However, a gap exists after boost, forcing MDA officials to look to reacquire a target later in its flight when the U.S. has other capability for tracking.

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