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Russia Has Nothing To Fear From European BMD: Obering

By | January 29, 2007

      Russia wields hundreds of high-speed intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) and therefore has nothing to fear from the United States placing a mere 10 ballistic missile interceptors in Europe, the head of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA) said.

      Installation of 10 interceptor missiles in Poland and radar gear in the Czech Republic is no cause for alarm in the Russian military, Lt. Gen. Henry “Trey” Obering, the MDA director, said in a telephone interview with an international group of defense journalists.

      He was joined by Brian Green, deputy assistant secretary of defense for strategic capabilities.

      “We cannot intercept” Russian ICBMs with those interceptor missiles, he said. And even if an interception were possible with the U.S. missiles, what are 10 of those against “the very large number of Russian ICBMs?” Obering asked.

      The United States has laid out all of these facts for Russian military leaders, and yet they continue to express concerns.

      Obering and Green said there is little time to dither here, because Iran, for one, is proceeding apace to develop long-range missile capabilities.

      Iran has flouted the will of European nations in negotiations where the Europeans urged Iran to abandon its program to produce nuclear materials, and the United States also has pressed in vain for the same goal. While Iran says the nuclear material would be used for electrical power generation, European and U.S. leaders are concerned that Iran may develop nuclear weapons to threaten them and leaders of nations in the Middle East.

      As well, Iran has developed medium-range missile capabilities, and recently it launched a missile from a submerged submarine.

      To protect U.S. allies and interests in Europe from such threats, it is imperative to move forward rapidly in creating a ballistic missile defense shield in Europe, Obering said, similar to the shield that MDA and others are forming in the Pacific.

      “It takes many years” to build such a defense, Obering said. Assuming that the United States began the job last year with some preliminary moves, it nonetheless would take until 2011 or 2012 “to have an operational capability” of a BMD shield capable of protecting Europe from missiles launched from rogue nations in the Middle East, Obering observed.

      And, he underlined, that is assuming that Iran or some other nation won’t develop long-range ballistic missiles before then.

      “We cannot predict when nations will obtain a certain capability,” Obering warned. For example, he noted, it came as a surprise in the 1990s when North Korea fired a missile that arced over Japan and landed in the Pacific Ocean.

      Presently, estimates indicate that Iran should have developed all elements of an ICBM capability soon after the 2011 to 2012 timeframe.

      And this assumes that work could begin promptly on building the European BMD system.

      However, there first must be negotiations with the Czech Republic and Poland in using their land to create the BMD radar and missile bases, Green noted.

      “All of this is subject to the negotiation process,” he said, observing that one cannot predict just how long that might take to produce an agreement. As for the bases, “the physical locations remain the sovereign territory of the host nations,” Green said, while U.S. personnel will operate the BMD system.

      Obering explained that is necessary because there must be a compact chain of command for swift decision making in the face of an enemy missile incoming toward Europe, so that control of the BMD system would have to “remain within the overall U.S. missile defense command and control structure.”

      On other points, the briefers stated:

      • It is in the interests of the Czech Republic and Poland to enter into the agreement to provide land for the BMD installations, because those assets will enhance their security. “A missile defense site in Poland would be good for Poland,” Green said.

      • Those nations also will share in the billions of dollars that will be spent to construct the system.

      • European nations aren’t being asked to help fund the system because there is no time to work out financing agreements in the face of a looming Iranian threat, so the system will be funded by the United States.

      • There might be 200 personnel at the site with the missiles, but few personnel to operate the radar. That doesn’t include additional force protection personnel at the sites.

      • The radar that would go into a site in the Czech Republic already has been operated in the Pacific.

      • Russian military leaders have been invited to tour U.S. BMD sites at Ft. Greeley, Alaska, and Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., to help assuage their fears concerning U.S. BMD capabilities.

      • China, which shot down one of its own satellites in orbit, doesn’t pose a threat to U.S. ballistic missile defense systems, because they have redundancies so that they would continue to function even if one or more U.S. military satellites were destroyed. “We have capabilities and redundancies that deal with that today,” Obering said. He and Green deferred to another time any comment as to whether the United States would like to develop an anti-missile system capable of defending against Chinese missiles aimed at U.S. military, commercial or allied space assets.

      • In the European BMD system, missiles might be used somewhat differently from those in the huge Pacific theater. There might be some trajectory shaping, and system operators also might opt to not activate the third stage of an interceptor, to hasten the response to a threat.

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