US Plans for a Missile Defense System in Europe

The United States is currently deploying a European anti-missile defense system, in line with the European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPPA), which focuses not on ICBM interceptor technology, but on destroying intermediate-range ballistic missiles. The EPPA provides for deploying the European missile defense system in four stages.

The first phase consists of introducing, by 2011, Navy-deployed SM-3 Block IA interceptor missiles. In Phase 2, SM-3 Block IB ground-launched and sea-launched interceptor missiles (in Deveselu, Romania) by 2015. In Phase 3, SM-3 Block IIA missiles on the ground in Poland and on warships by 2018, while Phase 4 provides for the deployment of ground-launched and sea-launched SM-3 Block IIB interceptor missiles by 2020.

The Obama administration has also announced plans to deploy target detecting and tracking systems as part of EPPA, including Aegis SPY-1D, THAAD TPY-2 radars (when used separately from THAAD missile batteries, this is called Forward-Based X-Band Radar or FBX), an airborne infrared system (ABIR) and finally, a Space-Based Infrared System (SBIRS) and Precision Tracking and Surveillance System (PTSS). That said, the US Congress has refused to fund R&D for creating SM-3 Block IIB systems, so the future of missiles that could potentially intercept ICBMs, not just intermediate-range missiles, is uncertain.

Presumably, these systems would be able to intercept Iran’s existing Shahab-3 intermediate-range missiles. Since 2001, the US has carried out 82 tests of its SM-3 missiles under its missile defense program, achieving 66 successful interceptions. However, now that an Iranian nuclear deal has been reached, many experts are beginning to question the expediency for the US to deploy a missile defense system in Europe. Iranian missiles carrying conventional warheads seriously damaging European countries is hardly an eventuality, especially given their lack of precision.

On September 13, 2011 the US entered into an agreement with Romania as part of the EPPA to deploy a US Ballistic Missile Defense System within the existing Romanian Air Base at Deveselu. In 2015, SМ-3 type interceptors (SM-3 Block IВ) will be launched on 175 hectares with up to 200 US servicemen to operate them. In addition, a missile defense radar along with a command and control system for the Aegis ballistic missile defense system are expected to be stationed. Around the same time, Washington hammered out a deal with Turkey to deploy the Army Navy/Transportable Radar Surveillance AN/TPY-2 in the country’s southeast, and reached an agreement with Spain on the stationing of four ships carrying SМ-3 interceptors and the Aegis system. A decision was made for NATO’s missile defense system to be created in 2011-2021, and its final configuration will be determined taking into account the existing missile threats, availability of technology and other factors. However, it is already clear that it will be based on the US global missile defense system (with Romania and Poland as deployment areas for interceptors, and Aegis missile defense ships in the Mediterranean, North Sea and possibly in the Black and Barents seas).

Although plans of the United States to create a European missile defense system so far do not pose a threat to Russia’s strategic nuclear arsenals, the fact that the development of the missile defense capabilities could eventually disrupt the existing strategic balance is a matter of grave concern for military and political leaders in Russia. For instance, Russia is greatly worried by the US plans to deploy SM-3 missiles in Eastern Europe, since the Mk41 launcher can also be used for cruise missiles. So far, the US and its allies have showed little interest in cooperating with Russia on missile defense or addressing Russia’s concerns related to US plans to deploy interceptors in Europe.

The missile defense divide between Russia and the West has recently grown wider, and the Ukraine crisis has only made matters worse. Although the deployment of any element of the US European missile defense system in Ukraine is currently not an option due to the extreme instability in the country, the conflict has greatly undermined trust between Russia and the United States, especially on such a delicate matter as arms control.

Nevertheless, despite certain issues in bilateral relations, the idea that the US and Russia should keep the dialogue on disarmament alive seems to be prevalent both in Washington and Moscow.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.