Missile Defense: The Other Story

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We are witnessing
a flurry of emails and articles proclaiming victory after President
Obama’s announcement that he was going to scrap George W. Bush’s
plans to deploy missile defense interceptors in Poland and a Star
Wars radar in the Czech Republic. There is no doubt that our peace
activist friends in those two countries do indeed have reason to
celebrate after their hard and determined work to stop those deployments.
We also need to recognize and thank the many people around the world
who acted in solidarity with them during these past couple years
of intensive campaigning.

But now that
we’ve had a day to rejoice, the time has come for more reflection
on what the Obama administration intends to do next. I’ve quickly
learned during these eight months of watching Obama in action that
when he gives something with one hand it is wise to watch what his
other hand is taking away.

In his September
17 speech Obama stated that his new missile defense architecture
for Europe would be more "comprehensive than the previous [Bush]
program" and would be "enhanced" by NATO involvement.

Secretary of
War Robert Gates was left to explain the details of the new missile
defense "architecture" that would replace the now rejected
deployment plan for Poland and the Czech Republic.

Gates stated
that he was the one who had proposed three years ago to deploy the
missile defense systems in Poland and the Czech Republic. He concluded
that the original plan was no longer the best military "architecture"
for the current "threat" from Iran. Thus instead of missile
defense interceptors that would target offending missiles in their
mid-course of flight, and that had a series of bad test results,
the Pentagon now wanted to deploy in northern and southern Europe
missile defense systems that had a proven testing record and were
more appropriate for the kind of threat now expected from Iran.

"The intelligence
community now assesses that the threat from Iran’s short- and medium-range
ballistic missiles, such as the Shahab-3, is developing more rapidly
than previously projected," Gates said. "This poses an
increased and more immediate threat to our forces on the European
continent, as well as to our allies."

Gates continued,
"We now have proven capabilities to intercept these [short
range] ballistic missiles with land and sea-based interceptors supported
by much improved sensors. This allows us to deploy a distributed
sensor network rather than a single-fixed site, like the kind slated
for the Czech Republic."

US Navy Aegis
destroyers, outfitted with Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) missile defense
interceptors, would "provide flexibility to move interceptors
from one region to another," Gates said. In years to come the
SM-3 will be upgraded and be deployed throughout Europe as land-based
systems as well. Since 2007 the SM-3 has had eight successful tests,
including the February of 2008 shoot-down of a falling military
satellite with an SM-3 missile from an Aegis ship in what many saw
as proof that these systems also had "anti-satellite"
weapons capability.

You can watch
brief video clips of Gates here
and Obama herey,
or look below at one of my earlier posts for the videos.

The Russians
first reaction was positive, as would be expected, since they were
deeply concerned that the Poland and Czech deployments could be
used by the US as the shield in a first-strike attack. But their
concerns have not completely disappeared.

The Washington
Post

reported
that Maj. Gen. Vladimir Dvorkin, former chief of the
Russian military’s main research institute for nuclear strategy,
cautioned that the reconfigured U.S. system could still pose a threat
to Russia. "Everything depends on the scale of such a system,"
he told the Interfax news agency. "If it comprises a multitude
of facilities, including a space echelon, it may threaten the Russian
potential of nuclear deterrence."

As described
by Gates and his top generals, Obama’s new missile defense plan
will unfold in three stages. By 2011, the Pentagon will deploy Navy
Aegis ships equipped with SM-3 interceptors in the eastern Mediterranean.

A second phase
in about 2015 will field an upgraded, land-based SM-3 in allied
countries, and discussions are underway with Poland and the Czech
Republic on basing the missiles in their territory, Gates said.
In 2018, the third phase will deploy a larger and more capable missile,
which will allow the system to protect Europe and the United States
against short- and intermediate-range rockets and, eventually, intercontinental
ballistic missiles.

Bloomberg
News reports
that, “This shift clearly benefits Lockheed
Martin and Raytheon and is negative” for Boeing. “The
move away from fixed missile-defense sites in Eastern Europe is
a continuation of the more flexible, tactical missile-defense shield
that Secretary Gates advocated," said Rob Stallard, an analyst
at Macquarie Capital Inc. in New York.

The Pentagon’s
2010 budget seeks 250 Standard Missile-3 interceptors. It also seeks
to increase to 27 from 21 the number of warships equipped to launch
the Standard Missile-3s and requests $1.6 billion to develop software
and hardware to upgrade ships and to develop a ground-based model.

The Pentagon
is also now promising Poland that Patriot missiles will still be
deployed in that country as previously planned.

So in the end
I see this as an adjustment in strategy due to technology as much
as anything. The flexible, more mobile, short-range missile defense
systems are proving ready to go while the former Bush proposal for
Poland and Czech Republic included technologies that are not yet
proven.

Obama can appear
to be stepping back from an immediate confrontation with Russia
but in fact he is following the lead of the Pentagon who for some
time has been saying that they must move to expand the more promising
Navy Aegis-based missile defense system. This program has already
been dramatically growing in the Asian-Pacific region and will now
be slated for expanded European operations.

Reprinted
from Global Research.

September
21, 2009

Bruce Gagnon
has worked on space issues for more than 20 years.

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