Obering Asks About Iran Missiles
Preparations For European BMD Proceed Ahead Of Poles, Czechs Agreeing To Host System; Obering Says Polish Comments ‘Very Positive;’ European Missile Defense Could Include Additional Mobile Radar
Obering Sees ‘Tremendous Progress’ In Airborne Laser BMD Program
Iran is developing missiles capable of striking targets in Europe, even though Iran already possesses weapons capable of striking Israel, according to Lt. Gen. Henry "Trey" Obering III, director of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA).
He rhetorically questioned why Iran, a nation hostile to Israel, would need to develop missiles with longer ranges that could strike European cities.
The answer, he indicated, is that Iran wishes to place Europe at risk.
Obering asked why Iran is developing long-range missiles capable of striking European cities, when Iran "already demonstrated capabilities beyond what they would need in a regional fight with Israel."
He questioned why it is that Iran is fielding missiles able to "reach most of the capitals of Europe in the next several years?"
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has said Israel should be wiped from the map.
While some U.S. analysts estimate Iran won’t have long-range missiles until 2015, Obering displayed a slide showing that Iran may already have a long-range missile, the SLV, with an estimated deployment of last year; the Iranian BM-25 is seen having an initial operating capability sometime this year; and Iran now is projected to field a true intercontinental ballistic missile in the 2010 to 2015 time frame, or as soon as two years from now.
As well, Iran obstinately has refused to halt nuclear materials production, saying it is needed for peaceful electrical power generation.
But Russia has given Iran enough nuclear materials for an electrical power plant. Western nations and the United Nations are pressing Iran to abandon its nuclear production work, fearing the materials would be used to build nuclear weapons that might be mounted on missiles aimed at Europe.
Separately, Iran recently launched a space shot, and the technology needed to put a missile into orbit is similar to that for ballistic missile missions.
Also, Iran now is using new-generation advanced centrifuges to process uranium gas, which could then be formed into fissile materials required to make nuclear weapons, according to wire service reports.
There are at this point only 10 of the IR-2 centrifuges working in a test, insufficient to make the quantities of nuclear materials required to make a bomb. But more IR-2s could be added later. Iran also has about 3,000 old-style, outmoded P1 centrifuges whirling away near Natanz.
In a related move, there have been reports that confidential talks have begun between Iran and the United States. George Friedman, of Strategic Forecasting, Inc., said Iran and U.S. officials will hold talks this week. Meanwhile, he reported that Ahmadinejad will visit Iraq soon. None of these moves would be happening if the United States opposed them, according to Friedman, who noted that such talks have occurred previously.
Meanwhile, Iran continues to develop longer-range missiles and produce more nuclear materials.
Those actions pose a threat, Obering indicated, meaning that the United States should move ahead with its plan to install a Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system in Europe, with a fixed-site radar envisioned for installation in the Czech Republic and interceptor ground silos planned for Poland. This would be a third GMD site, in addition to those already built in Alaska and California.
An additional mobile radar that could operate in a nation such as Turkey might be added to the European ballistic missile shield system, he said. Or, the mobile radar might go into the Caspian region or the Caucasus, he said.
Under current plans, "We have a forward-deployment radar somewhere in the far Southeastern Europe," in addition to the permanent Czech-emplaced radar, he said.
That extra, mobile radar would fill in some gaps in radar coverage, he said. "We have time to work that," he added.
"The [large, fixed-site] radar that we’re talking about putting in the Czech Republic is a radar that we’ve had in the South Pacific that we’ve had for the last nine years, that we’ve been operating. It works very well. … We also have a forward deployable radar. It’s identical to the one that we have in … Japan. And that would be placed closer to Iran, somewhere in either the far Southeastern portion of Europe — could be Turkey, could be the Caucasus, Caspian region, anywhere in that area — and that is a very mobile transportable radar, so it’s not something we have to deal with immediately. It’s something we can deal with downstream."
Those components all would be part of the Ground-based Midcourse Defense missile shield that the United States wishes to erect to guard Europe and U.S. troops there from enemy missiles fired from Middle Eastern nations such as Iran. He said he is optimistic that the Czechs and Poles will grant permission for installation of the GMD system.
On another topic, Obering hailed progress in the Airborne Laser (ABL) development program, saying every component of the missile defense shield has been shown to work separately, so that the task now is just to get the components working together, heading to a test shooting down a target missile in the middle of next year.
He spoke at a DPI-Aviation Week conference at the National Press Club in Washington, and also spoke with journalists after his appearance.
While he focused closely on intensifying missile threats in Iran and Asia, Obering also made clear that they are far from the only nations posing a danger to the United States and its allies.
"More than 20 countries around the world" have ballistic missiles of some type, and it is ever more likely that non-state actors, such as terrorist groups, also will obtain the weapons, he said.
Not only can the U.S. missile defense program provide protection for American cities and allied nations against those weapons, he said, a strong and workable U.S. missile defense shield can dissuade rogue states and terrorists from moving to acquire missiles in the first place.
Before the United States can install the GMD system in Europe, however, it must gain permission for the radar site from the Czechs and for the interceptor silos center from the Poles.
Obering voiced confidence that talks with both nations are moving well.
"There’s been talks that have been underway … in Prague," he said. "There also are talks that will be underway with our Polish counterparts. So I am optimistic that we will hopefully conclude agreements in the not too distant future, and that we could be set up to where we could do the work and the activity that we have planned for next year." He didn’t provide any specific date or time period as to just how long it might be until that not too distant future eventuated.
Congress has mandated that no GMD construction work can begin in Europe until the Czechs and Poles agree to host the GMD system.
He sees comments of Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski, that Poland and the United States have reached agreement in principle on the siting question, as "positive."
Obering also commented on a wide array of topics.
Airborne Laser Progresses
On the Airborne Laser, Obering was highly upbeat. It involves a highly modified 747 jumbo jet aircraft contributed by The Boeing Co. [BA], prime ABL contractor; a high-powered laser by Northrop Grumman Corp. [NOC] being installed in the plane, and a beam control/fire control system by Lockheed Martin Corp. [LMT].
He noted that the ABL has "now demonstrated every technical capability they need to do lethal shoot down, okay, they’ve demonstrated it, now it’s a matter of putting it all together."
That means that the ABL is now just the one step away from becoming the shield of choice to knock down enemy missiles in their most vulnerable phase, just after launch, before they have had the opportunity to spew out confusing chaff, or decoy or multiple warheads.
"If that works, that will be the primary boost phase weapon," Obering said. "because it is very straightforward. It has capability against all ranges of weapons. The short range all the way to the long range."
That laser system ABL is better than the competing Kinetic Energy Interceptor, which uses a missile to hit an enemy missile, and the "KEI is limited to just the long range," Obering indicated.
"The KEI was created as a backup to the Airborne Laser. That came in a 2002 Defense Science Board recommendation. So if the Airborne Laser is successful, and we can make it operationally affordable, then that’s the way we would go."
That doesn’t mean that KEI would be dead, Obering said, Rather, it would mean the KEI would move on to protecting against enemy missiles that aren’t in their initial, or boost, phase of trajectory flight.
"We would still use the KEI in a midcourse — in a flexible midcourse role, because that very high acceleration booster is important to be able to use that in a midcourse role. And it is mobile. So I get asked the question: ‘Are we going to have more silo-based interceptors?’ And my answer is, ‘No.’ I think the ones we have planned are sufficient. And that gives us a persistent coverage of the homeland and our European allies. Any expansion on that, we would use programs like KEI, because they would be mobile and flexible, or the sea-based SM-3 Block 2A [which are] sufficient against long-range weapons. And that mobility and flexibility is what you want to go for the future."
He was asked whether Japan, where officials are nervous about proliferating missiles in China and North Korea, might wish to become involved in the ABL program, which is headed for its first missile shoot-down test next year.
"The Airborne Laser program is making absolutely tremendous progress," Obering said. "Now, what I believe is going to happen is that we’re going to have the lethal shoot-down in 2009, and then we’re going to go through a restructure period in that program, in which we take all of the incredible lessons learned that we are learning now, and we will roll that into how can you make this very affordable, how can we make it very producible and manufacturable, for an operational capability.
"And I don’t know what period of time that’s going to take, but we’ll go into that period. I know that the Japanese have expressed interest, at least in industrial participation in that. You may well know they have a strategic relationship with Boeing, for example, which is prime contractor for the airframe on the Airborne Laser program. So I would anticipate that there would be — could be some participation by them in that period of time."
Obering was asked whether a new type of budgeting for MDA might mean it would be more likely that the multiple ballistic missile defense (BMD) programs forming the total U.S. BMD shield might fall behind schedule. The new budgeting is called a block structure.
"That’s one of the concerns that I had all along," Obering said, "is that when you move from a 2004, 2006, 2008 approach to this other structure that we would lose some of the sense of urgency with respect to the fielding of that."
But he said the time pressures are being built back into the new budget structure. Also, it will be possible to have work advancing in several different blocks simultaneously.
And the proof of whether the new budget plan will work well can be seen in program performance, he said.
"Back in 2003, we were putting together the ’04 budget," he recalled. "We said back then –almost five years ago, now — we said back then that we were going to have 30 interceptors in the ground, in Alaska and California, by the end of this year, and we will make that."
"We also said that we would have the radars that I talked about fielded. We’ve done that. We said we would have SBX online. We will have that. So I think that if you look at our scorecard, we’re actually doing better than we said we would across the board. Now, that’s in spite of some budget cuts that we took from the department [which we accept] in terms of prioritization, and also some of the fact of life changes that we’ve had in the program, like the explosion at the chemical systems division at Pratt & Whitney that occurred in 2003 which set us back in our Ground-based program.