Senate Republicans are pushing for the U.S. military to speed up deployment of advanced interceptors in Poland to send a deterrent message to Russia.
A bill introduced last week by Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and 22 other GOP members of his chamber would require the Obama administration to provide a plan for how to achieve deployment of Phase 3 of the "Phased Adaptive Approach" for European missile defense by the end of 2016.
Antimissile assets under the third phase currently are not planned for fielding in Poland until late 2018, at the earliest.
The Russian Aggression Prevention Act also gives the U.S. government the option of developing a different plan for providing "alternative [antimissile] capabilities to protect NATO allies in Europe and Eurasia."
Though the Corker legislation has considerable support from senior Senate Republicans, the lack of a single co-sponsor across the aisle does not bode well for its chances of passage this year in the Democrat-led upper legislative chamber.
An additional bill provision that would ban the reduction of long-range nuclear-delivery vehicles under the New START accord with Russia also is likely to be unpalatable to the White House.
"The bill is littered with veto bait," said Kingston Reif, an analyst with the Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation.
Michaela Dodge, a strategic defense policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation, in a phone interview last week said she believed it made sense to accelerate deployment of antimissile systems in Europe.
"I think it's an important step," she said, noting that Russia appears to be in violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and historically has been opposed to U.S. missile defenses in Europe.
Dodge acknowledged, though, that spending more money on such plans might be a difficult proposition, given that other programs also are competing for missile defense dollars.
The Obama administration has consistently maintained that the interceptors it envisions deploying in Europe do not have the technical capacity to threaten Russian intercontinental ballistic missiles. The Kremlin has refused to accept these political assurances absent a legally binding agreement on the usage of the U.S. antimissile systems.
Reif questioned the wisdom of pursuing any action that would seem to validate Moscow's longstanding fears about U.S. missile defense plans.
"Despite the current tensions with Russia, it is not in the U.S. national interest to feed the Russian suspicion that the [European Phased Adaptive Approach] is directed at them -- an impression we have spent years trying to dispel," he said in an email.
U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, during a Pentagon press conference last month with his Polish counterpart, said the United States reserves the right to "adjust" its schedule for deploying missile defenses in Europe.
Under the current stated plan for Phase 3, the next-generation Standard Missile 3 Block 2A interceptor is to be fielded at a still-to-be-constructed site in Redzikowo, Poland, in 2018.
However, Pentagon officials have quietly acknowledged that "some capabilities previously planned for delivery by 2018 are now expected by 2020 or later," according to a March audit by the Government Accountability Office.
Furthermore, the GAO report found that some unspecified Phase 3 systems were still too early in the development stage to know whether technology or performance problems were likely to be encountered. There has yet to be a flight trial or intercept test of the Block 2A interceptor.
As the United States is co-developing the advanced missile interceptor with Japan, there is only so much that Congress can do to rush its development, Reif asserted.
Dodge argued, however, that the potential for achieving an early implementation of Phase 3 still exists. She noted that the Standard Missile 3 interceptor class has had an overall "really good" testing record. She said the Pentagon could at least advance the start date for breaking ground on the interceptor site at Redzikowo.
Yet, the GAO report flagged as potentially problematic the current Pentagon plan of developing some Phase 3 technologies, while simultaneously deploying and integrating them with other missile defense systems.
Citing the congressional auditors' findings, Reif argued that there were too many developmental risks to the government speeding up work on the Block 2A interceptor.
"Phase 3 has already been delayed until 2020," he said. "Attempting to accelerate implementation would surely exacerbate their concurrency problems."